Chinese mobile users are showing keen demand for next-generation 5G network technology with pre-registrations for the service in the country nearing 10 million despite the small pool of handsets currently available.

As of 10am on Tuesday, about 10 days after the three major Chinese carriers began taking registrations for 5G services, China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, said more than 5.72 million users had registered for its 5G package, while smaller players China Telecom and China Unicom reported 1.96 million and 1.99 million registrations respectively, according to information on their websites.

Visitors tour an exhibitor booth with a 5G on display at the Smart China Expo in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, 2019. (Picture: AP)

All three Chinese carriers have offered incentives to encourage consumers to sign up for 5G services early. China Mobile has offered a 30% discount to users who have been in its network for more than five years, and a 20% discount to those in its network for less than that period.

“The 10 million figure just reflects the number of pre-orders, no official prices have been released for 5G services and users so far have only had to click, not pay anything,” said Wang Xi, a research manager at IDC China. “There are several 5G phones currently available … but so far popularity has not taken off … We think some unique use-cases are needed to stimulate further 5G demand.”

While countries such as South Korea, the US, Australia and the UK launched initial commercial 5G services in the second quarter, Chinese carriers have pinned high hopes on the mass adoption of 5G services in a country with over a billion people and amid a government push behind the new technology, which promises lightning fast wireless connections, reduced latency and massive capacity.

Huawei Technologies, the world’s biggest network equipment maker, has invested billions of dollars in 5G networks and is considered to be the industry leader, although its progress overseas has been hampered by a US trade blacklisting on national security grounds.

Meanwhile, China Telecom and China Unicom users can enjoy a 30% discount if they have been in the network for three years or more, with those under this threshold offered a 20% discount.

Smartphone brands have been rolling out new models in the country to meet expected demand – with the exception of Apple, whose new iPhone 11 series does not support 5G. Gartner forecasts the 5G market will be worth US$4.2 billion globally by the end of 2020, driven by vast infrastructure investment from broadband providers.

Vivo launched its Nex 3 5G phones in China with a starting price of 5,698 yuan (US$798) in September while Huawei priced its entry Mate 30 5G models from 4,999 yuan. Beijing-based Xiaomi on September 24 introduced the Xiaomi 9 Pro 5G with a starting price of 3,699 yuan, the lowest price yet for a 5G handset in the market.

While analysts generally believe that mass penetration of 5G smartphones in China will not occur until prices drop to current levels for 4G phones, Taiwan-based MediaTek President Joe Chen said in August that the chip maker wants to help vendors bring the retail price of 5G phones to below 2,000 yuan (US$283) by the second half of next year.