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China’s first privately built 5G mobile network for mining started operations on Saturday at a coal mine in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, pushing forward Beijing’s drive for industries to modernise with leading-edge digital infrastructure.

The 5G network was independently built and deployed by state-owned Shandong Energy Group Co at its subsidiary Baodian Coal Mine’s operations, according to the company’s website.

That next-generation mobile system delivers faster data transmission inside the mine – reaching less than 20 milliseconds, compared with 3 to 4 seconds on 4G, according to a report over the weekend by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). That difference enables workers to better control the operation of mining equipment deployed hundreds of metres underground, it said.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

With peak data rates up to 100 times faster than what current 4G mobile networks provide, 5G has been held up as “the connective tissue” for the Internet of Things, autonomous cars, smart cities and other new mobile applications, establishing the backbone for the industrial internet.

The CCTV report also described the coal mine’s privately built 5G network as “explosion-proof”, compared with the general 5G set-up offered by telecommunications network operators to some coal mining operations. It said the Baodian 5G infrastructure was specifically implemented to resist line failure caused by changes in the underground environment and electromagnetic interference from various electrical equipment used inside the coal mine.

The 5G gear used in the coal mine was from Beidou Tiandi, an equipment maker for smart mining and manufacturing that was founded in 2010, according to CCTV. Beidou Tiandi became part of Shandong Energy Group in August after Yankuang Group, another state-owned coal mining enterprise and the gear maker’s controlling shareholder, merged with Shandong Energy Group.

The group did not provide information about its investment in the Baodian coal mine’s 5G mobile network.

“Many of the current 5G projects in manufacturing are rather more like fumbling in the dark,” said Ivan Platonov, analyst with Beijing-based research firm EqualOcean. “There will, almost certainly, be a great deal of money sunk cost across the industry.”

China, which treats 5G service expansion as a national strategic priority, has called on local governments, enterprises and research institutes to build new digital infrastructure in the energy sector, including big data centres, 5G networks and artificial intelligence systems.

That follows the direction set by Premier Li Keqiang in May, when he announced details of the central government’s 3.6 trillion yuan (US$537 billion) fiscal stimulus package at the National People’s Congress.

Global investment in the 5G industry from 2020 to 2035 is forecast to reach US$3.5 trillion, of which 30 per cent will be invested in China, according to a white paper on 5G industrial equipment released by telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies on Friday.

The white paper identified smart mining as one of the 12 promising industrial application cases for 5G network adoption. Others include smart manufacturing, entertainment, smart cities and smart logistics.

The nation’s three major carriers, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, have deployed more than 480,000 5G base stations as of August this year, and more than 100 million devices were linked to their 5G infrastructure, according to Li Shan, an analyst from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.