China leads the way with private 5G networks in industrial facilities

China is forging ahead in building the infrastructure for 5G networks, but it’s inside factories, coal mines, shipyards and warehouses where the technology really takes off.

The country is widely considered to be at the forefront of deploying localized and powerful 5G networks in sprawling industrial sites, which aim to use the technology to help automate labor-intensive industrial processes or dangerous and hopefully increase productivity.

These sites include 5G coal mines with remote-controlled drilling machines, so-called smart factories that automate production and quality control, and seaports with internet-connected cameras that process and tally cargo containers.

5G Private Network Deployment Revenues

These private 5G networks are different from the consumer-facing networks that span cities and towns, in that they are dedicated to specific corporate sites with bespoke hardware and software. Isolated from public networks, they can be tailored to specific needs and handle more complex tasks and processes.

big projects

Many such projects are under construction in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. But analysts say the construction and deployment of private networks is more advanced in China, where the government has set aggressive targets for building high-tech workplaces powered by next-generation networks.

“China is quite ambitious in terms of its 5G development, essentially placing 5G as a national priority and targeting the digital transformation and connectivity of the economy,” said Sihan Bo Chen, head of Greater China for the industry group. GSMA telecommunications.

Last year, companies involved in their rollout generated $1.2 billion in revenue from private 5G networks serving businesses and governments in China, which is about a third of the global total and more than revenue. generated in Europe and North America combined, according to ABI Research. , a technology research company. The figure is an indicator of the scale of deployments of such networks in China, says Leo Gergs, an analyst at ABI who studies the use of 5G networks by companies.

At the Port of Ningbo, China, a 5G network is helping to automate cargo container counts and power unmanned container trucks.


Alex Plavevski/EPAShutterstock

The research firm expects China’s lead to widen in the coming years, given the government’s aggressive targets. This year, he expects China-generated private network revenue to grow by around 60%. By 2025, it will exceed $5 billion, according to ABI forecasts.

China is the world leader in 5G deployment in general. By the end of last year, the country had installed more than 1.4 million 5G base stations, or 60 percent of the global total, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the agency government that oversees China’s technology sector.

In April last year, Beijing set a series of targets for the country to achieve 5G by 2023. In a plan called “Set Sail”, it targets more than 560 million individual 5G users. across the country, with the rate of 5G subscribers. more than 40% of the population. For large industries, the government wants the 5G penetration rate to exceed 35%. It also aims to build more than 3,000 private 5G networks by this year.

“It shows how deeply the government is involved” in rolling out 5G in China, Gergs said.

go underground

The Xinyuan Coal Mine Control Center.


News by Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Several projects of this type in China are already operational. An example: the Xinyuan Coal Mine in China’s coal-rich Shanxi Province. Last year, telecommunications provider Huawei Technologies Co. and state-owned operator China Mobile 941 -0.39%

has developed an underground 5G network to enable remote mine inspections and automation of mining activity, with remote-controlled deep-digging equipment.

Similar technology is at work at the Xiangtan Iron & Steel plant in the city of Xiangtan in southern China. In 2019, Huawei and China Mobile built 5G coverage for the factory, which now uses 5G-connected cranes and CCTV cameras to help operate and monitor the factory, according to a report on the GSMA project. In the port city of Ningbo, companies have built a similar 5G network to help automate cargo container counts and power unmanned container trucks, the GSMA says.

“Private network deployments are just getting started and China is already a bit of an exception,” says Gergs.

Mr. Strumpf is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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