Wireless Wonder: Connecting China’s villages

Colors of China

The growth of the telecommunications and Internet industries in China has not only made the flow of information and communication faster, but it has also created a host of new opportunities.

“I couldn’t have imagined how fast the mobile Internet industry was going to grow when I first joined it five years ago,” recalls Zhao Jian.

Zhao is an engineer who began working at China Mobile soon after he graduated from university.


Five years ago, getting online predominantly meant being on a computer somewhere. The speed of the Internet on mobile phones was limited to 2G.

“It was too slow. You could barely manage to open an image on your phone,” chuckles Zhao.

Although five years is not a long time with regard to an industry, when it comes to the speed of development that China’s Internet and mobile industries have witnessed, 2008-2009 does seem like a distant era gone by.

Starting from 2012, more Chinese have been getting online using their mobile phones as opposed to desktops. As of June 2014, the country had an estimated 632 million Internet users, of which 527 were mobile Internet users, according to a report by the China Internet Networks Information Center (CNNIC).


The country is now surging ahead with the advent of 4G. And Zhao is among the army of engineers who are working on building 4G base stations across China to help shape the future.

In fact, China Mobile Ltd, the world’s biggest wireless operator by subscriber numbers, is banking on workers like Zhao to complete 160 base stations by the end of this year. The company is hoping that 4G will be the key in giving it the boost it needs, considering that profits have steadily declined over the past decade.

However, the CNNIC report provided one statistic that worries Zhao. As per the report, rural Internet users accounted for 28.2 percent of the total online population. And it is that number that he is keen to see improved.

“Now young people are using 3G, and some are even using 4G, on the mobile phones, as it’s really fast. We need to take the Internet to China’s villages and get them online with stronger and faster signals. It would be wonderful to see young people who work in cities return to villages for holidays, like the Chinese New Year, and not feel disappointed because they find poor connectivity,” says Zhao.

Apart from that, he is acutely aware of the fact that greater rural penetration and improved speeds will open up new avenues for people in the villages.

From farmers marketing their produce online to small manufacturers getting directly in touch with wholesale markets and buyers in cities, better Internet access and speeds can help reduce transaction costs and improve livelihoods.

And that is the dream for people like Zhao — a future of seamless connectivity without the tangles of wires.

“Wireless Internet is like a shadow; it follows you anywhere,” he said with pride, acutely aware of the potential impact that his work can have on the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.


屏幕快照 2014-10-15 上午11.01.32