LIVE FROM MWC21 BARCELONA: China Telecom and China Unicom executives highlighted the significant gains from a deal to share 5G infrastructure, explaining the collaboration reduced construction costs by CNY80 billion ($12.4 billion) and opex by about CNY8 billion per year.

The companies deployed the world’s largest shared network in less than a year, with 400,000 standalone (SA) 5G base stations across China. SA service was commercialised in November 2020, with peak download speeds climbing to 3.2Gb/s earlier this year.

Executives noted their joint approach is expected to cut energy consumption by 8.7kWh annually, which China Telecom EVP Liu Guiqing said is equivalent to 7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. “This is an important contribution to global carbon reduction objectives.”

Speaking at the 5G Infrastructure Sharing Summit, Liu noted lowering deployment costs was essential in the early stages of 5G because of the “high operations and technology costs as well as unclear profit models”.

He noted ubiquitous coverage and a quality experience are needed to attract users, adding China Telecom’s operating revenue improved following the joint deployment.

China Unicom EVP Mai Yanzhou explained the operators had “succeeded in sharing access networks, enabling us to separately provide 5G services on the same physical network”, with the project delivering benefits “beyond expectations”.

The operators also extended network sharing to 400,000 LTE base stations, Mai said.

At MWC21 Shanghai in February, China Telecom chairman Ke Ruiwen encouraged operators to look to network sharing to reduce costs and free up resources.