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More than just mobile, 5G plays a central role in China’s new industrial push

5G’s impact goes deeper than consumer-facing tech products, with the potential to spark deep industrial evolution.

With the increased digitization of traditional industries brought on by COVID-19, 5G networks will play a key role in a full-scale transition to online solutions in different sectors, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and travel, among others.

The lockdown caused by the pandemic did not cause major disruption to the implementation of 5G infrastructure and even gave China the opportunity to experiment with different 5G use cases, advancing with the technology development. The health crisis also coincided with a national directive to increase investment in advanced infrastructure, with 5G on top of massive spending plans.

According to the recently released China Internet Report 2020 from SCMP Research, China’s national push to build 5G infrastructure cost around USD 25 billion and includes over 500,000 base stations, to provide 5G coverage for all of the country’s 293 prefecture-level cities by the end of the year. KrASIA readers can purchase the report and receive 30% off using our partner code KRASIA30.

State-owned telecom operator China Mobile led the charge pouring USD 3.4 billion into its 5G plans in 2019, with that figure expected to grow to USD 14 billion by the end of 2020. China’s largest telecom also launched a 5G-based messaging service in 2020 to replace traditional SMS messages.

Tourism

China’s tourism industry, which has suffered amid a global dearth in travel, has turned to 5G-powered live-streaming solutions to try to recoup some business. To be replicated at scale, virtual tourism activities including the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies need the reduced latency provided by 5G networks.

China digest

For example, last year, the InterContinental Hotel in Shenzhen partnered with Huawei and Shenzhen Telecom to provide 5G coverage on the property, laying the foundation for the exploration of intelligent solutions like robotics in the hospitality sector. This trend is set to continue as hotels struggle to return to pre-virus occupancy levels amidst pandemic and resulting economic downturn. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism is keen to implement supportive policies and explore a new revenue channel for the industry.

In one of the more high profile instances of techno-tourism, Huawei partnered with leading Chinese telecom providers to build 5G base stations on Mount Everest, after which the company launched a 5G-powered VR livestream of the world’s tallest summit on Weibo (NASDAQ: WB).

China Telecom live-streams Mount Everest using 5G network, via CCTV’s video app

Agriculture

China is home to the world’s largest agricultural economy, which comprises around 10% of China’s national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The implementation of smart farming technology, enabled by 5G networks, has enhanced Chinese farming processes.

In Zhejiang province, at the Wuzhen International Internet Agriculture Park, intelligent greenhouses regulate temperature and humidity settings, feed nutrition to plants, and even link pest and disease control systems.

Daoji Agriculture, founded in 2018, continues to leverage technology to improve farming outcomes. The company signed an agreement with Tencent-backed online grocery company MissFresh to supply six tons of tomatoes grown in a 5G greenhouse to the platform every day as of May 2020. Back in 2019, tech giants like JD.com (NASDAQ: JD) and Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) were both moving to digitize farming operations, including one project that used Alibaba’s ET Agricultural Brain to measure pork standards by pig’s level of activity rather than weight, to ensure leaner meat.

A worker at Jingqishen’s pig farm checking on the pigs on his phone.

Construction and manufacturing

A key tenant of China’s plan for a widespread industrial upgrade is the maturation of smart manufacturing technologies, combining advances in computer vision, robotics, and 5G networks to create more efficient solutions.

Haier, a leading home appliances giant based in Qingdao, Shandong province, collaborated with China Telecom to create intelligent solutions in its warehouses, including autonomous forklifts and computer vision for quality inspection.

Construction firms can also reap the benefits of 5G connectivity. Xiangtan Iron and Steel, the largest state-owned enterprise in Hunan, worked with Huawei and China Mobile to develop a 5G smart plant that employed 20 autonomous cranes and 100 semi-automatic cranes.

China Mobile Hangzhou and Huawei cooperated to provide Hangzhou Turbine, a steam turbine manufacturer, with 5G-enabled electronic precision tools rendering 3D models of product designs.

In May 2019, Sany Heavy Industry, China’s largest construction machinery manufacturer and the world’s largest concrete machinery manufacturer, worked with ZTE and telecom providers to apply 5G technology to its processes with augmented reality solutions and real-time remote control of industrial machinery.

Meanwhile, of China’s leading AI firms specializing in computer vision, Megvii, has its sights set on creating the next generation of intelligent manufacturing solutions, with the goal of enabling entirely autonomous manufacturing ecosystems.

Aside from easing the pain points of remote work and distance learning, 5G has the power to prompt decisive digital transformation across industries, improving China’s economic resilience and flexibility in the face of an ongoing pandemic. With a strong government-backed strategy backing key players, China remains on course to lead in terms of 5G implementation.

In collaboration with SCMP, our members can purchase the China Internet Report 2020 Pro Edition and receive 30% off using our partner code KRASIA30. Find out more.