China 5G Buildout Races Past U.S.

The U.S. has fallen behind China in the buildout of 5G base stations, according to the South China Morning Post. For proof of this, the publication reports that China has added 600,000 new base stations, compared with 100,000 5G base stations in the U.S. between 2019 and 2021.

“As of the end of June, the number of 5G base stations in China had reached 2.937 million, covering all urban areas of prefecture-level and county-level cities, and the coverage is continuously expanding in both breadth and depth,” said spokesman Zhao Zhiguo, Chief Engineer of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Zhiguo claimed that China has a total of 3 million 5G base stations (although analysts estimate it to be 2.3 million) and the U.S. had 100,000. In China, the 5G base stations are connected to 676 million mobile phones and over 2.12 billion users of mobile Internet of Things terminals or devices, according to Zhiguo.

On the other hand, the U.S. had 678,700 macrocell sectors in operation at the end of 2022, and 452,200 outdoor small cell nodes, according to the WIA’s “Wireless Infrastructure By the Numbers 2022 Key Industry Statistics.” But the number with 5G signals was not made clear.

Although it lags in data speeds, in 5G subscribers and base stations deployed, the U.S. leads China in cities with 5G service, 503 to 356, according to Viavi.

Last year, North American 5G adoption stood at 15 percent, while China had 30 percent 5G adoption, according to BDO Global. However, analysts predict that 63 percent of North American connections will be 5G by 2025, BDO noted, compared to 52 percent for China, because of the greater buying power in the U.S.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt criticized U.S. efforts to build 5G networks in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that he co-authored with Graham Allison, a Harvard professor of government. The article noted that China has spent $50 billion on 5G infrastructure with a plan to invest $100 billion more in the next five years, compared with $1.5 billion in the U.S. But that number does not include the $46 billion spent by U.S. carriers on wireless infrastructure in 2022 alone, according to Wireless Infrastructure Association figures.

But does the key to economic domination have to do with 5G coverage or is it industrial adoption? 

“In my opinion, the ‘race to 5G’ is not a real thing between different countries because the operators don’t compete with each other. Verizon doesn’t compete with China Unicom,” said Joe Madden, Principal Analyst, Mobile-Experts, Inc. “There is a level of competition coming soon in the cloud business and edge computing, which can use 5G for connections. So the true race is between AWS and Tencent, with software solutions that span borders.”

By J. Sharpe Smith, Inside Towers Technology Editor

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