China Mobile has ordered 300,000 5G base stations at an average price of 160,000 yuan, about US$23,000. China Unicom is paying 160,000 yuan for the 250,000 towers it and China Telecom are upgrading. Including installation and everything else, the total cost is about US$50,000 per cell.
“High cost of 5G” is a myth and badly out-of-date. Mid-band 5G, more than 90%, simply requires upgrading the towers to reach 70%-90% coverage. After the Sprint deal, T-Mobile is building a world-class 5G network while cutting 20,000 towers.
Western telcos are paying something like twice as much per cell and sometimes more. Even large carriers are ordering only a tenth as many units. Ericsson & Nokia know they will split most of the U.S. orders and bid higher.
Lazy reporters are still saying Huawei is winning contracts with generally low bids. That hasn’t been true for several years. Huawei’s equipment is at least as good and it has generally delivered the best service.
In Europe, Huawei no longer cuts prices to win orders. Instead, Huawei roughly matches Ericsson prices. In China, Nokia says it actually bid lowest for radio contracts. It didn’t receive any, whether for technical or political reasons.
Outside of China, actual contract prices are rarely disclosed. The Chinese carriers do provide figures and I have roughly confirmed them using the reported capex totals. The vendors do release to a handful of analysts sales totals and some indication of prices. There’s enormous gossip as well.
Every contract has different terms for training, spare parts, shipping, and many other factors that are never public. Precise comparisons are impossible but the Western and Chinese prices are clearly far apart.