China is expected to be a front-runner in the roll-out of commercial 5G services with an estimated 600 million 5G subscribers by 2025, according to a trade body, as Beijing presses ahead with its plans to lead the next-generation wireless technology.

The 600 million users by 2025 would give China an estimated 40% share of the total number of global subscribers, according to a forecast by GSMA, a London-based trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.

“Global 5G subscribers are forecast to increase to 1.6 billion by 2025 from 1.4 billion, and much of this growth will come from China based on operators' roll-out plans,” Sihan Bo Chen, head of GSMA Greater China, was quoted as saying to China’s Xinhua news agency on Monday.

A guide is silhouetted in an exhibition promoting Huawei's 5G technologies at the Huawei Campus in Shenzhen in Southern China's Guangdong province. (Picture: AP)

Countries around the world are locked in a race to roll out 5G wireless networks, which offer faster data rates, reduced latency, energy savings and massive device connectivity. The mobile technology is seen as key to dominance in fields such as factory automation, robotics and autonomous driving.

While countries such as South Korea, the US, Australia and the UK have already launched initial commercial 5G services in the second quarter, China’s big government push – giving state-run carriers access to cheap airwaves and quick approvals for base stations – is expected to allow the country to become the first to reach massive scale with 5G networks.

China’s forecast capital spending on 5G has been estimated at between 900 billion and 1.5 trillion yuan (US$130.2 billion to US$217 billion) between 2020 and 2025, according to a study published in March by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT).

Chen Zhaoxiong, the vice-minister of industry and information technology, also said on Monday at the state-run World Internet Conference, also known as the Wuzhen Summit, that China’s telecom giants have set up 86,000 5G base stations, which enable 5G coverage in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou. The number of base stations in China is expected to exceed 130,000 by the end of 2019, according to Chen.

China’s significant infrastructure advantage – more than 14 wireless cell sites, also known as cellular base stations, in place per 10,000 people in China compared to 4.7 in the US – is seen as one of the biggest challenges for the US to overcome in its 5G race with China, according to an April report by the CTIA, a Washington-based wireless industry association. The report says the US is currently tied with China for top position in the 5G race.