5G 700M China by December 2022

The trend is strong: China will likely reach 700 million actual 5G users late in 2022. Time to update forecasts; ZDNet quotes an analyst estimate of 675 million 5G in 2025.

About 170 million 5G phones were sold in China, up from an unofficial 14 million in 2019. 27 million 5G phones sold in March 2021 by official figures, generally reliable. If that pace continues,

China sells about 350M smartphones yearly. Sales are now over 70% 5G. So 275M 5G this year and next are a reasonable estimate. China’s economy has fully recovered from the pandemic with the first quarter of 2021 up 18% over the first quarter of 2020. China went into a brutal lockdown early in 2020, with an almost horrifying set of restrictions. It worked.

Until November 2020, 5G was a Chinese lake. #2 Korea had less than a tenth as many. Since then, iPhone 12s – all with 5G – are producing explosive growth in some other countries, but China still will be more than half of 5G worldwide in 2023.

What China is doing

China entered 2021 with 5G 700,000 base stations covering ~ 50% of the population. The plan for 2021 is 600,000 more, reaching 70-75% coverage. A similar build is likely in 2022, joined by an extraordinarily rapid ramp of Edge Networks in 2022-2023.

Government promotion and low prices at the state-controlled telcos pulled China far ahead. Phone prices dropped to $275 in late 2019 and $150 in the fall of 2020. The Chinese press is constantly proclaiming the economic gains from 5G, but there are zero – 0 – important new apps or evidence of any economic effect.

Subscriptions are exploding

As the China phone prices reash the West, 5G is exploding everywhere. There’s little additional cost so of course everyone will be buying 5G. Carriers with extensive midband 5G networks – China, T-Mobile US, Finland – have enormous unused capacity for the next several years. They are selling 5G phones very cheaply and promoting them heavily. (Low-band 5G has the same or lower performance as 4G and is primarily PR.)

I am raising my 2021 projections to over 600 million 5G phones. That’s higher than almost everyone else, but I think the iPhone and Chinese sales will persuade others to increase forecasts

Performance on actual 5G networks isn’t close to promises

Speed is usually 20-30% of the promised gig on the actual 5G networks being built. (100-450 mbps on lightly loaded networks. The Brits project 100-200 as customers sign up. T-Mobile expects ~ 300 mbps. Wireless performance varies enormously in different locations and loads.)

Latency is not much different than decent 4G. The 1-10 ms latency is a fantasy outside of the lab and a very limited number of private networks.

Much better is possible but the carriers will not make the investment until at least 2025 and probably much later.

Two years after 5G began, there are absolutely no significant new applications in sight. Some were always fantasies. 5G does nothing for remote surgery unless surgeons are working from the beach. Ford, Elon Musk, and every expert I know is clear autonomous cars do not require 5G. Virtual Reality makes many people nauseous until latency is down to 10-20 ms, but so far all 5G networks are being built to 20-35 ms. Even Verizon much promoted “very low latency Edge” is designed for 20-30 ms. My cable modem is 19 ms; fiber is often lower. Verizon is telling a “politician’s truth” and reporters should be calling bs.


5G could be great but for consumers, ISDN. (It still does nothing.)

(Chinese telcos report a misleading figure for “5G contracts.” Since 5G & 4G contracts are at the same price, customers are easy to persuade to choose 5G in case they get a new phone. I use the official figures on phone sales, not the company “contract” figure.)

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