How will China Unicom cope with heated competition in 5G application?
Updated 14:05, 19-Apr-2021
Zhou Yiqiu and Zhang Xinyuan

Editor's note: The 2021 Boao Forum for Asia is held from April 18 to 21 in Boao, Hainan Province. Over 150 elite entrepreneurs from various business circles around the world will join government officials and scholars to discuss Asian economic cooperation and other issues. CGTN's Boss Talk series brings you special reports of industry representatives' views on technology, healthcare, manufacturing and recycling business outlook in a post-COVID-19 era.

China is undoubtedly leading the world in 5G development. More than 600,000 5G base stations were built and put into operation by the end of 2020, and the country is planning to build another 600,000 5G base stations this year, expanding coverage in more major cities. Among the top three 5G equipment providers, two of them are from China. 

What does this mean? To ordinary users, it may just mean faster speed bands, but to industry insiders, the significant influence of 5G lies in its ability of reimagining and upgrading traditional industries, being able to process and make use of the huge amount of data we are generating every day, building a new pattern of development and eventually change our society.

But China's 5G efforts are not unhindered. The cost of 5G terminals and the electricity bill of running those terminals are much higher than that of 4G. On top of that, the sporadic bans issued against China's 5G manufacturers, such as Huawei and ZTE, by countries buying into the U.S.' conspiracy theory that China's 5G equipment could be used for espionage also chipped the country's share in the global 5G market. 

Zhang Yunyong, general manager of the product department at China Unicom, one of China's big three telecom operators, told CGTN's Zhou Yiqiu that it's important for China's 5G development not to be discouraged by the turbulent global environment and the chip ban from the U.S. He believes that China's increased support for basic science education and research and development industries will eventually enable the industry to get through the tough time. 

The following excerpts from the interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.

CGTN: What difficulties did you face and what experience have you gained in the construction of 5G infrastructure?

Zhang: We can see 5G as a high-speed road: it must be wider, more three-dimensional, more intelligent, more convenient and open to strengthening our real economy, sharing economy and digital economy. However, the construction of 5G is not that smooth. The cost is high, and the coverage of 5G is not as wide as 4G. The electricity charge is also very high.

Joint construction and sharing is our main experience. China Unicom and China Telecom have taken the lead in jointly building and sharing 5G, cutting nearly half of construction cost and saving about 100 billion yuan every year. It might save 500 billion yuan if we continue in the future. This is an important experience. 

Secondly, we combined China Unicom's 100 MHz 5G frequency with China Telecom's 100 MHz frequency into 200 MHz frequency to lower the cost. In other words, the high-speed road is wider, which enabled us to go faster.

CGTN: How do you see the relationship between 5G and satellite internet and 6G proposed by the U.S.?

Zhang: Firstly, it's possible to embrace these new technologies in the future, such as some good features of 6G, and the addition of satellite internet for 5G construction. But it is too early to say that. At present, we need to concentrate on the construction and development of 5G.

There are four main 5G manufacturers in the world, China's Huawei and ZTE account for two of them. Moreover, Huawei and ZTE's patents account for one-third of the world's 5G industry.

So don't be disturbed by outside voices, they may even be voices from the U.S. looking to disrupt China's 5G.

CGTN: How can 5G go global for cooperation and exchanges?

Zhang: At present, there are two major situations. Firstly, the United States and the Five Eyes Alliance are trying to curb some Chinese enterprises like Huawei and ZTE.

Secondly, we have also developed a double-circulation pattern in which inner circulation predominates. Relying on the Belt and Road Initiative, we are building the Digital Silk Road. We are promoting 5G, high-speed railway and intelligent devices along the Belt and Road countries.

We will help China's 5G, high-speed railway and intelligent devices go abroad together to build a community with a shared future for mankind. For example, we are using these methods to shorten the digital gap between us and Africa, so they can enjoy the benefits of 5G.

I am also a member of the China-Africa Friendship Group of the CPPCC National Committee, and I have conducted standard cooperation and talent cooperation with them many times.

In addition to serving these countries, Chinese companies also have a strategy when going abroad. They will bring their communication services, 5G services, and 5G operation wherever they go.

Therefore, on the one hand, 5G enables high-quality development for these countries; on the other hand, 5G also expands production capacity and monetizes through digital autonomy.

CGTN: What do you think 5G will bring to human society?

Zhang: It's a good question. It is also a vision we had at the early stage of 5G development: 4G changed life, and 5G will change society.

Everyone in society can experience intelligence. For example, many people who can't drive can still use autonomous vehicles. Smart homes provide comfort in our everyday life. For instance, intelligent devices are installed in the doorbell and the kitchen, which makes people yearn for more. Medical care for the elderly and education for kids used to be a problem, it may be relieved now.

Governance is more important. Smart cities and digital governments built by 5G will enable more data operations and help the public to avoid detours. Also, 5G is applied to environment monitoring and air pollution prevention. 5G and the digital economy have increased government efficiency.

And the key is data, which is the most important factor for the flow of the digital economy and a 5G-enabled society. The future will be a data society.

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