Why China’s mobile coverage is superior to that of the US

By Zhang Chi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/6 17:18:40

Photo: VCG

A Chinese scholar in the US named Wang Mianmian attributed her brief disappearance to the absence of mobile signal during a trip to a US forest. The news set off a discussion on the telecommunications infrastructure gap between China and the US. US technology leads the world, how can it not resolve the tiny problem of the lack of mobile phone signal in forests? However, most people do not know that weak mobile phone signal is a widespread problem worldwide. 

According to reports, there are currently approximately 6 million 4G base stations worldwide, more than half of which are in China and about 300,000 in the US. The per capita 4G base station ownership in China also far exceeds that of the US. China's mobile phone signal coverage ranks the first among major global powers. 

Why does China have so many base stations? This is because of a nation-level project in China in 2003. The project required that more than 95 percent of remote mountainous areas should be covered with communication signals and the fees must not be higher than those in urban areas. This is a policy that is against market rules, because the more prosperous the area, the lower the cost of installing telecommunication infrastructure. Just place several base station antennas on top of buildings at the Bund in Shanghai, and tens of millions of people will be covered. But in remote areas, it requires an iron tower with a minimum cost of 300,000 yuan ($42,443) to build one base station. The tower may only cover one village and the monthly may be not enough to even cover the electricity bill, let alone the cost of fixing wires and connecting cables across mountains. Thus, building base stations in remote areas is bound to be a business that will lose money.

However, based on the advantage of the Chinese system, each of the three major Chinese telecom operators was responsible for setting up the telecom infrastructure in thousands of villages, regardless of the cost. It took more than ten years of hard work to complete the project. Mobile phone signals in remote Chinese rural areas are now stronger than most capital cities in Western countries.

In the US, telecommunications operations are completely market-oriented. Where there is money, there is signal. Private enterprises are not interested in doing business that will lose money, and the US government cannot assign tasks to telecom operators. The original remedy was to allow Chinese operators to contract communications projects in rural areas in the US. But the current US administration resists Huawei. Why has the US given Huawei three 90-day extensions allowing US companies to continue doing business with the Chinese telecommunication firm? An important reason is that no one can take over the base stations that Huawei built in US rural areas.

Currently, almost all countries are extensively developing 5G, of which optical fiber is the core. China's optical fiber broadband users account for more than 91 percent of the total, but the US is far behind. This has become the biggest hurdle in the development of 5G network in the US. In fact, the US has a great choice: Huawei's 5G microwave. This provides the best access to high-speed internet after optical fiber. However, it is a pity that the US has boycotted Huawei. The US is blocking its own path of development. 

Some people have seen passengers reading books and newspapers in subways in the US and some European countries, while Chinese subway passengers are mostly found using their mobile phones. Due to this, it is believed that Americans and Europeans love to read while the Chinese don't. However, it is not because of the love of reading but due to these countries' backward telecommunications facilities. When there is no signal on the subway, people cannot use their mobiles even if they want to. In recent years, Huawei and ZTE have contracted some countries' subway signal projects. Now, people in these countries have also put down their books and picked up mobile phones in the subway.

From the global perspective, the gap between the rich and poor in the telecommunications industry is widening. Poor people may have difficulties making phone calls and getting on to the internet. They encounter discrimination in the information society, which makes it more difficult for them to come out of poverty. The UN attaches great importance to this issue and listed freedom of information as part of fundamental human rights. 

The International Telecommunications Union advocates universal service which is unrelated to wealth. China has most effectively implemented universal service, which is a feature of the development of human rights in the country. More than 800 million Chinese farmers have enjoyed high-quality and low-priced telecommunications services. This is a miracle in the history of human communications.

The author is an observer of the communications network industry and a popular science author. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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