China Planning 500,000 New 5G Base Stations as State Officials Say Construction Has 'Entered the Fast Lane'

Hundreds of thousands of new 5G base stations are on track to be built in China this year despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials have claimed.

The roll-out of the next generation wireless technology, which will boost speeds and connectivity of computers, mobile phones, and smart devices, is "relatively smooth" in China, with construction set to ramp up significantly in the coming months, according to one ministry spokesperson.

Wen Ku, director of the department of Information and Communications Development of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said in a Thursday press conference there should be no problem in hitting the target of 500,000 5G base stations by the end of the year.

Wen, who also serves as the ministry's spokesperson, said that as of March there were 198,000 5G base stations constructed nationwide and more than 50 million users of the new wireless technology across China.

"China's 5G has pressed the fast forward button," he said during the press conference this week, held by the State Council Information Office. "Network construction has entered the fast lane."

He said 5G-enabled products are growing, revealing there are now at least 96 mobile phones on the market that have network access, up from 39 models in December 2019. He said the price of the 5G handsets is "rapidly dropping" and the industry is enjoying "vigorous development."

Although difficult to quantify or verify, Wen claimed the novel coronavirus—still raging across the world—may have helped to accelerate use of the high-speed web technology.

He said: "The demonstration of 5G in key fields such as the internet of vehicles, industrial internet, and medical treatment has been more in-depth. In particular, since the outbreak, applications such as 5G telemedicine, intelligent medical robots, unmanned disinfection, remote education, and online office have been accelerated to bring a more intuitive 5G experience to users."

To the general citizen, the internet in the country is highly-censored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which enforces the monitoring of websites, social media platforms, and chat apps.

Huang Libin, director of the Operation Monitoring and Coordination Bureau of the MIIT, conceded the COVID-19 outbreak had a "huge impact on China's economic and social operations."

"The international epidemic situation is still spreading, the downside risks of the world economy are increasing, unstable and uncertain factors have increased significantly, and the industrial economy is facing new difficulties and challenges. The situation is still not optimistic," Huang acknowledged, according to a transcript posted by the ministry and translated through Google.

Broadly, however, he too put a overall positive spin on the future economic situation. The officials' comments were pushed by state media outlets, which praised the "marked progress" of 5G.

The U.S. government remains extremely skeptical about China's involvement in the development of the technology, especially in regards to blacklisted phone maker Huawei, one of the nation's biggest technology companies, which it says poses a risk to critical infrastructure and the personal data of Americans. Politicians have accused the firm of being harmful to national security.

The construction of 5G networks in the U.S. is being managed by service providers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, with limited coverage currently rolling out across several states. It is not, as some conspiracy theorists have suggested online, linked to the novel coronavirus health crisis.

5G mobile phone mast
A 5G mobile phone mast on April 04, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. Hundreds of thousands of new 5G base stations are on track to be built in China this year despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials claimed. Matthew Horwood/Getty