China Unicom believes the biggest challenge facing operators in deploying 5G will be a growing imbalance between the high investment needed and low returns.

Zhang Yong, president of Network Technology Research Institute at China Unicom explained early 5G systems will be deployed around 2020, when the growth rate of global mobile and smartphone users will be reduced to single digits, and global service revenue growth also will be near zero or even negative.

“The mobile communication industry needs to more rationally determine the development goals and development plans of the next-generation mobile communication system to achieve a balance between performance and cost, and match the pace of technological development with the pace of industry growth,” he said in a presentation at Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

Looking at China Unicom’s 5G plans in 2018 and 2019, he said its priority is to finish functional verification of equipment based on 3GPP Release 15; conduct large-scale network trials; and complete performance verification. The operator is also aiming to cooperate with vertical industries; carry out service trials; and explore new business models.

Zhang added that after receiving private investment following the government’s mixed ownership reforms, China Unicom is pushing digital transformation by increasing cooperation with vertical industries, with the goal of building a vibrant IoT industry ecosystem: “We will also create a developer community to activate the innovation capabilities of industrial partners.”