HONG KONG: After just two years since they were launched, 4G networks now account for almost 6-in-10 (59%) of all mobile subscribers in mainland China, a leading telecoms analyst has revealed.

Chris Lane, Senior Research Analyst at Hong Kong-based Sanford C. Bernstein, told South China Morning Post that China's rapid adoption of 4G augurs well for the launch of 5G services, which is expected to happen in 2020.

"If measured since the launch of 4G services, China's 4G adoption rate has been much faster than that of Japan and the United States, and a bit quicker than South Korea's," he said.

"We expect China to launch 5G services in 2020, around the same time as commercial launches in Japan, Korea and the US," he added. "Early adoption among high-value users [on the mainland] is likely to be just as quick as we saw with 4G."

Bernstein reached its estimate of 59% coverage after noting that three major operators – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom – reported to regulators how many 4G subscribers they had as of January 31.

The combined total reached 789.5m, including 552.2m signed up to China Mobile, the world's biggest wireless network operator. Lane said he expected the company to increase the number of its 4G subscribers to 753m by the end of this year.

With 4G witnessing rapid adoption in China, Lane added that Bernstein expects 2G networks to close down by 2020, to be followed by 3G five years after that.

Compared to 4G, 5G is much faster and will be able to support new technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality entertainment, the Internet of Things, ultra-high definition video transmission, on top of other benefits for consumers.

Brands and marketers will be keeping a close eye on how successfully 5G mobile services are rolled out, and an internationally accepted standard for 5G is expected to come into force by 2018.

Data sourced from South China Morning Post; additional data by Warc staff