Analysts are predicting an underwhelming start to 5G from its biggest market, with China’s giant operators taking a cautious approach to investment.
The Global Times reports that, between them, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom will invest around $5 billion on 5G networks this year. This is apparently in line with “their pragmatic and cautious strategies”. Apparently China Telecom is dropping 9 billion yuan on 5G this year and China Unicom around 7 billion, which by the reports own assertions means China Mobile will be the big spender with 18 billion yuan.
“5G investment will last 10 years, considering the investment speed in 4G,” said some bloke called Huang, apparently. “It’s a pre-commercial time for 5G, so it’s a pre-commercial investment model.”
As you can see in the clip embedded below, another analyst echoed this perspective in a recent interview with Bloomberg. All this speculation about Chinese 5G prospects has probably been prompted by the recent announcement of China Telecom and China Mobile’s 2018 numbers. The two slides from their respective earnings presentations offer some further insight into their immediate 5G plans.
GSMA’s Director General spoke at Huawei’s MBBF 2018 event, talking up the prospect and promises of 5G and artificial intelligence
Mats Granryd, the Director General of the telecom trade organisation GSMA made a keynote speech themed on “intelligent connectivity” at Huawei’s MBB 2018 event at London’s ExCel today. Granryd put spotlight on 5G and AI as the key enablers to what the telecom industry has to offer in the years to come.
In addition to predicting that 70% of the world’s population, or roughly 6 billion people will be on mobile internet, GSMA forecast 40% of the world population will be on 5G networks. When it comes to AI, on top of improving individual experience (e.g. Personal Assistants) and serving new industry needs (e.g. network slicing), Granryd highlighted what the combined AI capabilities can do for society. The GSMA’s “Big Data for Social Good” initiative has launched in seven countries around the world. Mobile operators in those markets have worked with local partners to enable air pollution warning, malaria spreading prediction, and natural disaster preparedness, using big data and machine learning and prediction capabilities.
Guiqing Liu, EVP of China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operators in the world by subscriber number, then took the stage to share what China Telecom saw as the biggest opportunity for telecom operators to undertake the digital transformation, especially with the ascendency of industry markets. Liu included four key capabilities the industry in particular the operators need to master to succeed in the transformation. They are: end-to-end slicing to cater to different user and industry needs; FMC edge computing to deliver seamless experience; 5G+Cloud based network and services to provide flexible and special customisation; and 5G+AI to both optimise service delivery and network management.
Liu also outlined the key challenges the industry is facing before 5G can become a real commercial success. He conceded that use cases now are still very much focused on eMBB, and the industry has not thought through how to change business models in the new era, including how to bill customers for the new use cases. On network challenges, in addition to the CAPEX and OPEX and skill gap, Liu also pointed the indoor coverage weakness intrinsic of the high frequency bands most 5G networks will be built on.
Nokia is so keen for everyone to know how well it’s doing in China that is it makes an announcement every time it wins some business.
Earlier this year we heard all about a ‘framework agreement’ signed with China mobile that was worth around €1 billion. Today Nokia has announced some more ‘frame agreements’, which are presumably the same thing and refer to a kind of pre-contract that amounts to a formal commitment to do a bunch of business in future.
This time we’re talking €2 billion, but split between all three Chinese MNOs – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. Presumably the China Mobile bit is fresh cash, not just a recycling of the previous bil. The agreements cover delivery for the next year or so of radio, fixed access, IP routing and optical transport equipment, as well as some SDN and NFV goodness. Nokia is excited by all this transitioning and leveraging.
“We are excited to continue our close collaboration with these important customers in China, to drive new levels of network performance as they transition toward 5G,” said Mike Wang, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell. “Leveraging the breadth of our end-to-end network and services capabilities, we will work closely with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom to deploy technologies that meet their specific business needs.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see some kind of equivalent announcement by Ericsson before long as the two Nordic kit vendors clearly like to compete over this sort of thing. Not long after its first China Mobile announcement Nokia said it was getting £3.5 billion from T-Mobile US to help out with 5G. Within a few weeks Ericsson had countered with an almost identical announcement of its own.
China Telecom Global and Liquid Telecom have announced a new collaboration to extend their respective network coverage in the African and Asian markets.
The partnership will allow both of the telcos to offer additional network solutions and services to enterprise and wholesale customers, as well as increasing coverage across two challenging regions. China Telecom Global has already established a Point-of-Presence (PoP) at Liquid Telecom’s East Africa Data Centre in Nairobi, though this will be extended facilities in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“With more than 50 countries in the region, Africa is nonetheless the booming new market with the highest development rate just after Asia, and a very important market for CTG,” said Changhai Liu, Managing Director of China Telecom, Africa and Middle East. “This collaboration will enable both CTG and Liquid Telecom better serve our customers and explore untapped business potential for further development. Under this partnership, we are well positioned to enhance the connectivity and network infrastructure in both regions.”
“This partnership with China Telecom Global reflects the strong global demand for world-class network services across Africa. Our combined service and network capabilities will be of great value to multinationals operating in some of the fastest growing economies across Africa and Asia-Pacific,” said Willem Marais, Group Chief Business Development Officer at Liquid Telecom.
Partnerships like this should be encouraged in regions where investments can be challenging to justify. While telcos in more developed markets can build business cases around investment in network infrastructure, the difference in economics between the developed and developing nations mean the rules are not the same. Telcos in developing nations aren’t even playing the same game, as economy of scale becomes much more difficult to realise.