China’s mobile carriers have been urged to share the cost for building expensive 5G networks, which would allow for a much faster and more efficient build-out. This approach could spark a new trend in the world of 5G, bringing it to the market much quicker than first thought.
Co-building and sharing networks
“Higher frequencies needed to transmit the huge volumes of data that 5G networks can handle will require far more base stations compared with earlier generations of mobile service,” said Wang Jianzhou, the former chairman at leading Chinese carrier China Mobile. “And co-building and sharing networks is a growing trend in the development of global wireless networks. This is true for 5G, and even more so for 6G.”
Sharing infrastructure isn’t a new thing. For example, the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, says that it "encourages mobile network operators to share masts and/or sites where possible". And there is already some cooperation between network operators, with Three 5G and EE 5G in a partnership called Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) for equipment sharing, whereas O2 5G and Vodafone 5G work together under the Cornerstone banner, for site sharing. But so far we’ve seen nothing on the scale proposed in China.
China Telecom and China Unicom are already sharing construction costs, whilst also pooling other resources for their 5G networks. The two companies control 40% of China’s huge wireless market, with China Mobile controlling the other 60%, and have managed to cut 30% off network ownership costs through the partnership.
The way forward
“Network sharing has become a standard part of the operating model for mobile operators, and the trend is accelerating,” explained Peter Liu, a telecom analyst at Gartner. “5G will be no exception, with operators eyeing new ways of accelerating the deployment of an otherwise daunting investment.”
With annual spending on 5G equipment set to reach $159.5 billion in 2023 in the Asia Pacific region alone, sharing the burden seems to make a lot of sense. With companies sharing money and pooling resources, we could see higher quality 5G networks a lot quicker than originally predicted.
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