Chinese official says frequencies will be made available to telcos this year to speed rollout of 5G networks

China will likely award 5G licences in the second half of 2019 or the first half of 2020, a regulatory official told a local news outlet this week.

Ahead of the licence allocation process, the country will make appropriate frequencies available to telecoms operators to enable them to push on with 5G development and accelerate the rollout of networks, China Daily quoted Wang Zhiqin of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) as saying on Wednesday.

The industry expert, who serves as vice president of China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, which according to the news platform is a government think tank affiliated with the MIIT, said those frequencies will likely be distributed in the second half of this year.

China insists it will be in the first wave of 5G licence awards globally, despite the fact that it lagged other markets in the issue of 3G and 4G licences, China Daily noted.

Indeed, China finally awarded 3G licences at the start of 2009 after years of speculation and delay, the creation of a homegrown standard in TD-SCDMA and a full-scale industry restructuring. By contrast, the U.K. auctioned off its 3G concessions in 2000.

Late 2013 saw Beijng issue licences for homegrown 4G standard TD-LTE, but the telcos had to wait until 2015 for permits to offer the FDD variant of the technology.

Of course, China is now by far the world’s largest 4G market. Market – and world – leader China Mobile this week revealed that it had 661.8 million 4G customers at the end of February, having added more than 100 million over 12 months. Rival China Unicom had 187.1 million at the same date and China Unicom’s latest figures show 187.8 million 4G terminal users at end-January. That’s a grand total of just over 1 billion 4G customers.

Late last year analyst firm CCS Insight predicted that China will be quick out of the blocks with 5G; it expects the country to account for more than half of 5G customers globally by 2022. It expects the world to reach the 1 billion 5G customers mark by mid-2023.