China Mobile's 5G tech soars to new heights

China Mobile employees build 5G towers at the 6,500-meter-high Forward Camp on Mount Qomolangma in the Tibet autonomous region in late April. [Photo provided to China Daily]

State-owned telecom carrier expands superfast technology to camps on Mount Qomolangma

A line of 46 yaks laden with telecom equipment in mid-April made its way toward the 6,500-meter-high Forward Camp on Mount Qomolangma, known as Mount Everest in the West.

Accompanying the special transport team were more than 40 employees from China Mobile and its partners, who were burdened with heavy optical cables and struggling to inch higher amid bone-chilling -20 C temperatures.

Their mission is to achieve the impossible-building the world's highest 5G base stations and bringing 5G signals to the summit of the world's highest mountain to provide a sound telecom infrastructure for scientific research and environmental monitoring of the peak.

"Do you know how cold -20 C is? Even machines cannot bear such cold. The computers cannot be turned on," said Chen Gang, an employee from China Mobile's Tibet autonomous region branch.

To solve the problem, they found a workable solution."When sleeping in tents, we lay our arms across our computers all night so that they can work next morning," Chen said.

That is only one of the challenges they have to face. At Mount Qomolangma where oxygen is extremely scarce due to high elevations, people need to take deep breaths with every step. As a result, it would take as many as 40 people to carry a three-kilometer-long optical cable which weighs 700 kilograms. And the whole project needs 25 km of such cables.

Li Chongming, an official with the networks department at the Tibet branch of China Mobile, described the project as challenging, tough and risky.

Li, who is also the field chief coordinator of the ongoing 5G network installation project, said such a project required higher levels of skill in technology and construction.

Wang Xiaobo, an employee of the networks department at the branch, said "the job is a challenge both for the mind and body to work at such high altitudes". He added that many of his colleagues suffered problems such as dry skin, insomnia and headaches.

After hard work, the world's highest 5G base station at an altitude of 6,500 meters finally began operations on April 30, with China Mobile and Huawei-a major telecom equipment supplier-taking 5G connectivity to new heights by bringing the network signal to the summit of Mount Qomolangma.

Together with the launch of the gigabit optical fiber network, China Mobile also runs its dual gigabit network for "Roof of the World".

The project once again proves the technological prowess of China in rapidly commercializing the superfast technology and it will help scientific research, environmental monitoring, high-definition live broadcasting and other activities on the world's highest mountain, said Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance, a telecom industry association.

Huawei said in a statement that it has offered its end-to-end solutions in the construction of China Mobile's dual gigabit network, where base stations were built in Mount Everest North Base Camp at the altitude of 5,300 meters, the Transition Camp at 5,800 meters, and the Forward Camp at 6,500 meters.

Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan mountaineering guide, said 5G coverage on Qomolangma is crucial for coordinating emergency rescue services.

"Many climbers come from low altitudes, so altitude sickness is a common problem for most people, and it is worse at altitudes such as 6,500 meters," he said.

 

To make full use of the 5G technologies, China Mobile created a livestreaming video showing a 360-degree view of Qomolangma on the company's video platform Migu Video.

Ma Bin, a software engineer in Beijing, said he appreciated the livestreaming videos as Qomolangma is somewhere he would love to visit, but he has been unable to do so.

"Now I can observe its beauty with the 5G livestreaming broadcast on my phone, it is really incredible," Ma said.

The Qomolangma project is also part of China Mobile's broader push to accelerate 5G rollout across China. The nation's biggest telecom carrier by mobile subscribers is pouring in resources to build 300,000 5G base stations this year.

China Mobile said it will invest 100 billion yuan ($14.2 billion) on 5G in 2020. The investment comes as China is ratcheting up efforts to accelerate commercialization of superfast 5G technology as it has built 198,000 5G stations and secured more than 50 million 5G mobile subscribers nationwide as of the end of March, said the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Wen Ku, head of information and communication development department at the ministry, said that as of April 20, a total of 95 types of 5G mobile phones had been licensed, and 5G handsets priced at less than 2,000 yuan have already entered the market.

The ministry said it will support smartphone manufacturers to strengthen research, development and innovation in a bid to provide consumers with various types of cost-effective 5G mobile phones and bolster the consumption of 5G phones through optimizing 5G package services and lowering data plan fees.

More effort is also needed to propel the application of 5G to a wider range of fields, which include virtual reality, augmented reality, livestreamed events, games and entertainment.

Wang Zhiqin, deputy head of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government think tank, said China is entering a critical period of 5G network construction.

Speeding up construction of the 5G network will play a vital role in optimizing the investment structure and stabilizing the growth rate when facing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downward pressure this year, Wang said.

The academy said China is likely to spend 1.2 trillion yuan on 5G network construction and drive more than 3.5 trillion yuan of investment in the upstream and downstream industrial chain and other related sectors by 2025.

Li from China Mobile said the cost of building one 5G base station on Mount Qomolangma exceeds 2 million yuan. The company has already built five 5G base stations to cover the northern face of the mountain.

At an altitude of 7,790 meters, a mountaineering team has helped test 5G, whose download speeds could reach 826 megabits per second and uploading speeds hit 70 Mbps.

A Chinese team is currently scaling to the peak of Mount Qomolangma to remeasure its height. Li and his colleagues are also eager to wait and see how fast 5G can be at the summit.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime honor for me to be part of this gigantic project. We will cherish the memories forever," Li said.