China Mobile is accelerating its 5G research and development plans as it now targets five test cities where it's planning to deploy an experimental next-generation wireless network over the course of this year, local media reports. The world's largest mobile service provider has been collaborating with domestic partners such as ZTE on 5G advancement efforts for years but has also enlisted the help of foreign experts from Qualcomm and Nokia in recent times. Its initial 5G deployment plans are understood to have been directly enabled by such partnerships, with the company's latest project reportedly being aimed at allowing for 5G connectivity in Shanghai, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Hangzhou.
China Mobile is said to be planning to install 100 5G base stations in each of the five cities later this year in order to test the performance of its latest technologies in real-world environments. While no official statement on the matter has yet been provided by the telecom giant, the firm previously announced it's seeking to conduct pre-commercial 5G buildouts in 2018, adding that large-scale deployment should start in 2019 as it's still pursuing the goal of having 10,000 operational 5G stations in the Far Eastern country by 2020. Besides its five key testbeds, China Mobile is reportedly planning more contained trials in approximately a dozen other cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen. The company is presently focused on 3.5GHz-enabled 5G and it's presently unclear whether it's interested in committing major resources to millimeter-wave spectrum in the near future.
The experimental buildout is expected to be based on the Release 15 standard, the 3GPP's first implementable 5G specification completed in late December. In other parts of the world, the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Korea are all participating in the 5G race, with their major carriers already announcing similar roadmaps. First commercial 5G service is expected to go live in the U.S. by late 2018, with both Verizon and AT&T being expected to offer it, albeit the former will initially be focused on a fixed wireless access solution, whereas the latter's mobile network won't be directly compatible with any 2018 smartphones. 5G-enabled handsets are expected to be announced come early 2019, no later than the next iteration of Barcelona, Spain-based Mobile World Congress.