China has begun offering cellphone customers next-generation 5G service, a leap forward for the world’s most populous country despite U.S. attempts to contain Beijing’s largest telecom company.
The country’s three state carriers on Thursday formally announced the rollout, laying out their price plans and data speeds. Though commercial operations were formally slated to launch Friday, users reported access on Thursday.
China Mobile Ltd., China Telecom Corp. and and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. are offering plans starting around 128 yuan ($18) a month, going up to roughly $100, with speeds up to 100 times faster than existing 4G services, according to the companies’ promotional materials.
Beijing already has some 10,000 operational 5G base stations, and over 100,000 are planned across the country, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Though most stations and widest service will begin in the major cities Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China Mobile said Thursday that nearly 50 cities will have some degree of 5G service soon after the launch.
The service was originally planned to begin early next year, but was reportedly expedited in the face of U.S. pressure to hobble Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., which Washington considers a security threat.
China is not the first country to launch commercial 5G service. The U.S. and South Korea both have small-scale offerings in some cities. But China’s will be by far the biggest network in the world, due to China’s massive population and widespread adoption of cellphones.
China Mobile said it has 900 million existing cellular subscribers, and China Telecom estimated that the country will have 170 million 5G subscribers by next year.