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Telecom carriers dial 5G-enabled messaging for edge in social media

By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-09 08:04

A pedestrian passes a China Unicom branch in Beijing on Wednesday. [Photo by Hou Yu/China News Service]

China's big three telecom carriers launched a new 5G-enabled messaging service on Wednesday that could prove to be a game-changer in social networking and pose challenges to Tencent's messaging services, analysts said.

China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom published a white paper for the 5G messaging service, which specifies the technical details necessary for smartphone makers to support the new service.

Falling under the technical name of rich communication services, or RCS, the 5G messaging service is designed to replace current short messages with a system that is richer, provides phone book polling, and can transmit in-call multimedia.

With the new messaging service, for instance, consumers don't have to download a variety of mobile apps. They can directly buy train tickets and book flights by sending messages.

Dong Xin, deputy general manager of China Mobile, said the global telecom industry association GSMA has reached a consensus that RCS will become the mandatory function of 5G smartphones, and efforts will be made to accelerate the popularization of the 5G-enabled messaging service.

The senior executive also called for cooperation from smartphone makers, content providers and platform operators to build a thriving ecosystem for the new messaging service.

Ma Jihua, an independent telecom analyst, said the new 5G-powered messaging service, if properly promoted, will usher in a new era of social networking, and eat into the messaging business of Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Huawei Technologies Co, the world's largest telecom equipment maker and a leading smartphone vendor, said the company will start supporting the new 5G messaging service from June.

The move is part of China's broader push to accelerate the commercialization of 5G services. The three telecom carriers disclosed in March that they would invest about 180 billion yuan ($25.5 billion) on 5G this year. They will also build 550,000 5G base stations this year.

China Unicom said on Wednesday that Beijing has become the first city in China to have more than one million 5G mobile subscribers. Currently, it has already built more than 10,000 5G base stations in Beijing, achieving continuous outdoor coverage.

Si Han, China head of GSMA, said China "is leading the early adoption of 5G and has already built more than 160,000 5G base stations covering more than 50 cities".

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China's top industry regulator, published a notice last month to expedite the roll out of 5G and encourage consumers to exchange their existing smartphones for 5G-enabled devices. The notice is also motivating companies to create more high-quality 5G content.

Wang Zhiqin, deputy head of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government think tank, said: "This year, we will see large-scale construction of 5G networks, a kaleidoscope of applications emerging and 5G smartphones rapidly becoming popular in China."

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