Xu Zhijun, Huawei's rotating CEO, introduces the company's 5G Pre-commercial System at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen last year. Photo: Xinhua
Xu Zhijun, Huawei's rotating CEO, introduces the company's 5G Pre-commercial System in Wuzhen last year. Photo: Xinhua

Research released on Tuesday shows by just how much China is beating the competition in the race to roll out a national 5G (fifth-generation) wireless network, and the numbers are striking.

The report, published by Deloitte, revealed that China has already constructed more than 350,000 cell sites since 2015, compared with fewer than 30,000 in the US.

China’s leading provider of the sites, China Tower, which owns around 96% of macro towers, has invested US$17.7 billion in capital, boasting a total of nearly 2 million wireless sites, versus a total of 200,000 across the US.

“This means the United States has 0.4 sites compared to China’s 5.3 sites for every 10 square miles. Comparing tower density on a per capita basis is marginally more equitable, where the United States lags China by approximately three times,” according to the research.

“We conclude that the United States underspent China in wireless infrastructure by US$8 billion to US$10 billion per year since 2015.”

The report confirms a growing fear within the American mobile network industry that the US will lose ground in an important sector, a development that could have wide-ranging consequences.

“When countries lose global leadership in a generation of wireless, jobs are shed and technology innovation gets exported overseas,” Recon Analytics founder Roger Entner was quoted by trade association CTIA as saying in April. “Conversely, leading the world in wireless brings significant economic benefits, as the US has seen with its 4G leadership. These are the serious stakes that face American policymakers in the escalating global race to 5G.”

Fears are also growing beyond the private sector, with the US intelligence community becoming increasingly concerned.

When Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Washington in February, US intelligence agencies briefed the leader on alleged cyber espionage conducted by China, activity deemed among the “top two” risks on the allies’ security agenda.

“When you control telco networks, you can control everything,” one intelligence official was quoted as saying, according to a person present at the briefing.

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