A China Mobile employee displays a 5G-enabled drone during an exhibition in Nantong, Jiangsu province. [Photo by Xu Congjun/For China Daily]

China will basically “achieve full 5G network coverage in urban and rural areas” by the end of 2025, thereby creating a strong foundation for the use of 5G in consumer, industrial sectors and injecting vitality into the nation’s digital economy, a telecom expert said.

Wang Zhiqin, deputy head of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government think tank, said the next five years are a crucial period for 5G development in China and the nation is likely to achieve several breakthroughs in its technological evolution, network construction and applications.

“By the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), China will build the world’s largest and most extensive stand-alone 5G network and achieve full network coverage in urban and rural areas,” Wang said.

China will work hard to accelerate the industrialization of millimeter-wave and new intermediate-frequency 5G base stations that are capable of supporting fast uploads, low latency, large connections and high-precision positioning, she said.

China will continue to foster breakthroughs in key technologies, build an advanced, robust and safe industrial and supply chain, and maintain China’s leading position in 5G system equipment,” said Wang.

The academy estimated that Chinese telecom operators’ investment in 5G network construction will reach 1.5 trillion yuan ($232.2 billion) by 2025, and generate an additional 3.5 trillion yuan of investment in the upstream and downstream segments of the industrial chain as well as in other areas.

This year, China will build more than 600,000 5G base stations, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the top industry regulator in China.

The plan comes with China already having built more than 718,000 5G base stations as of mid-December and with 5G signals available in more than 300 cities at the prefecture level and above.

Chinese companies are working hard to overcome the difficulties in promoting the integrated applications of 5G with other cutting-edge technologies.

“More efforts will be made over the next five years to popularize the use of high-definition video, virtual reality and augmented reality, cloud games and other 5G consumer-oriented applications. We want 5G applications to be part of people’s daily lives,” Wang said.

Meanwhile, more resources will be poured into promoting the use of 5G in key industries such as mining, ports, manufacturing, and medical care, and to form industry application solutions and standards that can be replicated and promoted, so that the technology can truly empower thousands of industries, she said.

Lyu Tingjie, vice-president of the China Information Economics Association, a Beijing-based research institute, said from this year, 5G commercial networks will be more widely deployed and the superfast wireless technology will become more deeply integrated into a wide range of sectors.

“5G will play an increasingly important role in fueling the development of China’s digital economy, and spurring more companies to embrace digital transformation to upgrade their plants, products and services,” said Lyu.

Significant progress has already been made in this respect, especially in industrial internet, a typical application of 5G in traditional sectors, said Wang from the CAICT.

“So far, 180,000 industrial enterprises have been connected to the 5G-powered industrial internet, and more than 70 regionally influential industrial internet platforms have emerged, which have connected more than 60 million units of industrial equipment,” Wang said.

Wang also said China still faces a string of technological and commercial bottlenecks in the development of 5G, and efforts are needed to strengthen international communication.