SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) published a lengthy document on Tuesday calling on localities to accelerate 5G network buildouts and applications to minimise the impact of the coronavirus.
The directive comes as China continues its aggressive 5G network expansion, which was disrupted when the coronavirus outbreak halted construction of base stations in February and fibreoptic factories ceased production.
In one part of the 18-point directive, the agency urged local authorities to construct 5G smart medical systems and “optimise and promote the application of 5G in the fight against the new coronavirus epidemic”.
The directive also asks authorities to develop 5G applications in virtual reality for the industrial and related car sectors.
Beijing has long considered building 5G should be a strategic priority, following its comparatively late establishment of 3G networks.
The MIIT said the country has installed 130,000 base stations in 2019.
Analysts expect that figure will increase to more than 600,000 this year as investment continues despite the coronavirus disruption.
Speaking in an earnings call last week, China Mobile chairman Yang Jie said the carrier would build 250,000 base stations this year and dedicate 100 billion yuan ($14.13 billion) to 5G investment.
Throughout the period of coronavirus slowdown, many local governments in China have made commitments to 5G-related projects.
In March alone, the provincial governments of Guangdong, Guizhou, Yunnan, Hebei and Fujian all set targets to build tens of thousands of 5G base stations by the end of the year.
($1 = 7.0755 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; editing by Louise Heavens and Barbara Lewis)