Mounted on rooftops, utility poles and streetlights throughout China since last year are hundreds of thousands of high-tech wireless towers for 5G, a powerful sign of the country’s ambition to lead in new technology. Yet many of them are operational for only half the day.
China Unicom, one of three telecommunication operators, announced in August that its Luoyang branch in Henan province would automatically switch its 5G transmitter stations to sleep mode from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. because there were few people using them. The other two carriers quickly followed suit and since then have rolled out the same policies in other cities across the country.
“Shutting down base stations is not a manual shutdown, but an automatic adjustment made at a certain time,” Wang Xiaochu, chairman of China Unicom, said at the company’s midyear earnings conference.
5G is one of the biggest technology investments in China’s recent history. Touted as the next big leap forward in digital communication, the 5th generation mobile network technology is supposed to change the world and spur a new digital revolution.
China officially launched its commercial 5G networks in September 2019 with the promise of delivering unprecedented digital speed to support new applications from autonomous driving to virtual surgery. More than a year later, the biggest 5G market is now facing widespread complaints about network speed and skyrocketing costs of deployments.
Signals are hitting walls
To handle more data at higher speeds, 5G uses higher frequencies than current networks. However, the signals travel shorter distances and encounter more interference.
“5G uses ultra-high frequency signals, which are about two to three times higher than the existing 4G signal frequency, so the signal coverage will be limited,” Wang Xiaofei, a communication expert at Tianjin University told Xinhua, the official state-run press agency, last year as