Update: Clarified dual-SIM capability on the Axon 10 Pro 5G

For all the talk about China racing ahead with rolling out 5G networks, ordinary users still can’t take advantage of the superfast technology. The problem? There are currently no commercial 5G smartphones available for purchase in the country.

That will finally change soon.

ZTE, the telecom equipment giant that narrowly escaped collapse last year, is now taking preorders on its Chinese website for the Axon 10 Pro 5G. With no other contenders currently in the market, the company hopes to have the first 5G handset officially for sale in China. The price is set at 4,999 yuan (US$726) -- around US$260 more expensive than the non-5G version with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage.

ZTE’s Axon 10 Pro 5G weighs 175g, slightly lighter than the iPhone XS. (Picture: ZTE)

ZTE’s 5G phone could be the first to hit the shelves, but it probably won’t be the only one for long.

Joining the 5G party soon will be Huawei, the country’s best-selling smartphone brand. Its debut 5G phone is set to be unveiled in China this Friday. The Mate 20 X 5G, already available in the United Arab Emirates, will arrive in Chinese stores in August, Huawei’s mobile chief Richard Yu said on Weibo last week.

Just like ZTE's 5G phone, Huawei's upgraded Mate 20 X will support two SIM cards for 4G and 5G, according to Huawei product executive Bruce Lee. Dual SIM functionality is particularly popular in China because it allows consumers to take advantage of different carrier plans.

Check out Mate 20X 5G on Amazon

ZTE’s 5G phone carries Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset, which ensures a seamless transition to 4G when 5G signals aren’t in range. The 5G connection is enabled by an additional modem, which consumes quite a lot of power. That explains why ZTE’s phone comes with a large 4,000 mAh battery, which the company says can last about 11 hours with heavy usage.

Also slated for release in August is Vivo’s iQOO 5G. Along with the aforementioned models, Vivo’s 5G phone has already received the greenlight from Chinese regulators. Five other models have also been approved, including one from each of Vivo’s sister companies, Oppo and OnePlus, and three more from Huawei.

Huawei’s Mate 20 X 5G is one of four 5G phones from Huawei that have already received regulatory approval in China. (Picture: Huawei)

But what’s weird is that while Chinese consumers are still waiting to get their hands on 5G handsets, Chinese brands are already selling them overseas.

Oppo’s Reno 5G started selling in Switzerland in early May, becoming the first commercial 5G phone to go on sale in Europe. In the same month, the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G became the first 5G phones to launch in the UK. ZTE’s 5G phone launched in Finland and Dubai last month.

It looks like China is trying to catch up fast, though. In June, it granted its first 5G commercial licenses to the country’s big three telecom operators -- China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom -- as well as the China Broadcasting Network.

While countries like South Korea, the US, Australia and the UK have all launched commercial 5G services ahead of China, it’s believed that the size of China’s 5G market will eventually dwarf those four markets combined, according to the China Internet Report 2019.

According to the report, the first wave of 5G trials alone in China will cover an area populated by 167 million people -- more than the entire population of the UK, South Korea and Australia combined.

The report also says China plans to make nearly 30% of its mobile connections 5G by 2025. Meanwhile, analyst firm Canalys expects Greater China to account for 34% of global 5G smartphone shipments by 2023.

China Internet Report 2019

For consumers in China, though, there’s at least one good reason to wait it out before purchasing their first 5G handset. Industry insiders and analysts forecast that by next year, the price of 5G phones could drop to around US$290 due to better technology and more supplies.