Chinese state media have been told to dial down their build-up to China’s upcoming 5G rollout. This comes after leading firms including Huawei tried to lower expectations of the benefits of the next generation of broadband cellular network.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that China’s ambitious 5G construction and trial spree may hit the buffers, with China and the US still locked in a tariff war. There are also rumors that the Trump administration may reinstate a ban on chip exports to Chinese base station equipment-makers and restrict their operations in the US.

On Monday, party mouthpieces like the People’s Daily and the Global Times ran op-eds in a bid to manage people’s expectations, saying that the nation’s 5G deployment will be gradual and that most people will have to stick to the current 4G network longer than they may think.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei was realistic in a recent interview, saying that many could have overrated his company’s capabilities as well as its 5G technologies and hardware.

Ren sought to downplay what people should expect from the 5G experience his company would begin to offer this year, adding that a whole plethora of core technologies – from coding, multiple access to wireless transmission – had not yet been tried out in real-world situations. He also urged patience and tolerance if the initial 5G launch failed to live up to the hype.

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Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said in a recent interview that China’s adoption of 5G technologies would be gradual. Photo: Bloomberg
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Huawei unveiled its 5G equipment sets and protocols during a media event in 2018.  Photo: Handout

Ren’s calls marked the beginning of a reckoning period in China over its expertise and capabilities in the global race to 5G. While media coverage trumpeting China’s 5G readiness has stoked national pride among Chinese, it has also instilled concern in the west.

Huawei, despite being one of the very few suppliers of 5G network devices on the market, has also become a lightning rod for suspicion and scrutiny. In some countries this has resulted in Chinese IT companies being held at the fringes of the market, while in others it has seen them locked out completely. The company’s chief finance operator Meng Wanzhou, Ren’s eldest daughter, is still under house arrest in Canada for contravening US sanctions.

Chinese papers also admit that even after the technologies are stable and mature enough for mass application, the success of 5G also hinges on the penetration of compatible devices such as chips and smartphones.

However, a deputy minster overseeing information technology told reporters in the last week that China’s 5G network was ready for commercialization.

Chen Zhaoxiong, vice minister of industry and information technology, said China had completed its third-stage tests to prepare its network for the “pre-commercialization launch” of 5G services by the end of the year.

Since 2015, China has outspent the US by US$24 billion in 5G infrastructure and has built 320,000 more base stations than the US, according to a report by Deloitte released in August.

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