In the global 5G race, China is one of the biggest players with good prospects for the pole position. With almost 25,000 declared 5G patent families as of October 2020, the country has become one of the leaders in the research and development of 5G. China’s long-term strategy is focused on high public investment, wide-ranging spectrum deployment covering a very broad area, and a government-coordinated guiding program.
Since 2015, the rollout has been organised at a national level through three state-owned mobile operators – China Mobile, China Unicorn, and China Telecom. In December 2019, operating licenses were issued for all of them. However, the physical rollout of 5G is not controlled by these operators, but by China Tower, which is the largest base station site-operator worldwide. Despite this, China’s domestic rollout has started to slow down due to problems with indoor coverage.
On the global stage, the (partial) ban of Huawei in some countries has weakened China’s position. Australia, for instance, has decided to exclude Huawei from its local 5G rollout, as the company was identified as a high-risk vendor. Similar conclusions were made by the Swedish and British governments. The US, in particular, fears that 5G equipment and software from Huawei might contain malicious code designed to open the door for unwanted practices, including espionage, cybercrime, and the potential disruption of critical infrastructure. Spectrum auctions of 5G mobile telecommunication networks have also sparked debate around whether using Chinese 5G equipment poses a security threat. The EU has set up a coherent policy and toolbox for the rollout of 5G among member states, which includes the identification of high-risk vendors.