China Thursday granted commercial licences to four state-owned telecom giants to start rolling out 5G services, signalling Beijing's determination to be the global leader in setting up superfast wireless networks amid tensions with the US over technology and trade.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued 5G commercial licenses to China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Radio and Television.
5G is the next generation cellular technology with download speeds stated to be 10 to 100 times faster than the current 4G LTE networks. Apart from much faster data download and upload speeds, 5G technology promises wider coverage and more stable connections.
Chinese officials say a comprehensive deployment of the network will help develop industrial manufacturing, internet-connected cars, healthcare, smart city management and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The 5G technology will establish a high-speed, mobile, safe and widespread new-generation information infrastructure, MIIT Minister Miao Wei said at the licence presentation ceremony.
Asked whether China's move is linked to its trade war with the US and aimed at helping Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing here that foreign companies are also welcome to participate in the 5G development. "I believe that China is taking concrete action to contribute to multilateralism and free trade in a system that is under attack by raising unilateralism and protectionism," Geng said.
Minister Miao said the 5G technology is expected to bring new opportunities and buoy the growth of China's digital economy.
The technology is expected to generate 10.6 trillion yuan (about USD 1.54 trillion) worth of economic output and over three million jobs between 2020 and 2025, according to a research report by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.
China, as always, welcomes enterprises at home and abroad to actively participate in the building, application and promotion of its 5G network and share the sector's development dividends, the MIIT said.
Chinese telecom companies are trying 5G technology in several cities across the country, including in the remote Himalayan region of Tibet.
In March this year, Hongkou district in Shanghai city claimed to have become the first using both 5G coverage and broadband gigabit network.
Shanghai has developed what it claims to be the first district boasting both 5G coverage and a broadband gigabit network, state-run China Daily reported.
Huawei, the world's biggest telecoms gear provider, has become a central part of a US-China power struggle which started out in trade, and is now being played out in the technology sector.
The US has encouraged allies to block Huawei - the world's largest maker of telecoms equipment - from their 5G networks, saying the Chinese government could use its products for surveillance.
Huawei has denied official links with the Chinese government or the military.
Still, some countries including Australia and New Zealand have blocked Huawei from supplying equipment for their 5G mobile networks.
Meanwhile, Huawei has signed a deal with Russian telecoms firm MTS to develop 5G technology in Russia.
The companies will develop next-generation 5G networks in Russia over the next year, media reports said Wednesday.
The deal was agreed as China's President Xi Jinping began a three-day visit to Russia.
Efforts by Washington to block Huawei escalated last month when the Trump administration put the company on its "entity list", which prohibits US companies from trading with the firm unless they have a licence.
China also protested to the US over its efforts to extradite Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou, who has been arrested in Canada to face prosecution for violations of US sanctions against Iran.
Meng, daughter of Huawei owner Ren Zhengfei, has been accused of for allegedly misleading banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
China and the US have also been fighting a bruising trade war over the past year, imposing tariffs on billions of dollars of one another's goods.