China will invest more than 1.1 trillion yuan (U.S.$177.3 billion) over the next two years to upgrade its broadband and 4G networks as part of a nationwide strategy to increase Internet speeds and improve access in rural regions, according to a government guideline issued yesterday.
A total of 430 billion yuan will be spent this year to improve network structure, with the remainder of the funds earmarked for 2016 and 2017.
In a statement, the State Council urged telecom operators to improve their services and reduce their Internet charges. It also vowed to expand the 4G network to the whole of the country by the end of 2017.
By the end of this year, more than 80 percent of urban families will have access to broadband networks with a bandwidth of 100 megabytes per second, five times of the current level, it said.
Also this year, carriers are expected to establish 1.3 million 4G base stations, which will provide access to 14,000 villages in rural areas.
The goal is to have more than 300 million 4G users nationwide by the end of 2015, or twice the current number, the State Council said.
The country will also continue to open up the market for broadband services, which is currently dominated by state-owned giants like China Mobile and China Telecom.
By 2017, the telecommunications market will be open nationwide, compared with just 16 cities at present, the State Council statement said.
The planned improvements to 4G and broadband networks, and the increase in user numbers are expected to provide a 20-percent boost to China's information consumption volume this year, mainly in e-commerce, online education and Internet-based health care sectors, analysts said.
Faster and cheaper connections will also help promote the country's "Internet Plus" scheme, a new strategy introduced by Premier Li Keqiang in March, Xinhua news agency said. This seeks to integrate mobile Internet, cloud computing and the Internet of Things with modern manufacturing to form a new engine for growth.
Under an action plan issued by the Ministry of Commerce, China is aiming to increase its e-commerce transactions to 22 trillion yuan next year, from 13.4 trillion yuan in 2014, and lift the annual value of online retail sales to 5.5 trillion yuan in 2016, up from 2.8 trillion yuan in 2014.
The Ministry of Commerce said earlier it expects revenue from information consumption to hit 3.2 trillion yuan this year.
Meanwhile, China Mobile and China Unicom both posted weaker growth in user numbers in April as consumers canceled their low-speed 2G subscription contracts, the carriers said yesterday.
In April, China Mobile added 578,000 customers, down from 4.6 million added in March, taking its total user base to 816 million. The company said it has 5 million 4G users.
China Unicom, the country's No. 2 mobile carrier, added 691,000 3G and 4G users in April, but lost 3.2 million 2G users, taking its total user base to 292 million.
As services continue to improve, more and more users are expected to migrate away from 2G in favor of 3G and 4G.