China grants first 5G licenses amid Huawei global setback

It’s official. After much anticipation, China named the first companies to receive 5G licenses for commercial use on Thursday.

The announcement from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the country’s telecoms authority, came as Huawei, the Chinese company that captured nearly 30% of the world’s telecom gear revenues in 2018, faces mounting scrutiny in the west over potential security concerns.

The greenlight arrived months ahead of the long-expected due date for China’s 5G licenses, which was said to be late 2019. The acceleration clearly demonstrates Beijing’s ambition to race ahead in the global 5G race where the United States and South Korea already had a head start in commercial deployment.

The MIIT approved three network operators — China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom — and cable network company China Broadcasting Network to run the next-gen cellular connectivity.

Other players in 5G, including network equipment makers, smartphone manufacturers, chip makers and apps creators, are also gearing up. Over the last few months, Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi and Huawei have each announced plans to bring 5G into their handsets.

In the meantime, internet giant Tencent has been quietly testing cloud-based games with Intel, and Netflix-like iQiyi has joined hands with China Unicom to make virtual reality products, representing just two of the many applications that rely on 5G-enabled low latency and higher bandwidth to work.

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