China Telecom’s 5G ambitions

5G moves up to account for over half of all capex as operator makes massive rollout move.

China Telecom says it will have access to 300,000 5G base stations by the end of 2020, five times the number it had live at the end of 2019.

The operator, which is taking part in a 5G network share with China Unicom, said that it had deployed 40,000 of its own base stations by the end of 2019, with access to 20,000 of China Unicom’s sites. That reflected a RMB9.3 billion investment in 5G networks in 2019.

But it is 2020 that will see the real ramp up. 5G capex is set to expand to RMB45.3 billion as the company deploys or gets access to a further 240,000 5G base stations. For comparison, the company has almost 1.6 million LTE base stations in operation, so there is still considerable headroom for more 5G sites to come in following years.

It will also deploy a 5G Core to support StandAlone mode in 2020, and said it had been investing in R&D into edge computing.

The operator’s overall capex in 2019 was RMB77.6  billion, and it is forecast to rise to RMB 85.3 billion in 2020, so although the overall lift is just under 10%,  there is a major shift to 5G within the capex mix; 5G is moving from an 11.9% share of capex to 53%. Meanwhile 4G, responsible for 33% of capex in 2019, will amount to just 8.8% in 2020.

China Telecom said that it already had over 10 million 5G “subscribers” by the end of February 2020. It wants to beserving from 60-80 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2020.