The History of Chinese Wireless and Mobile Networks Infrastructures (1988-2020)

Authors: Jianqing Chen*,
Topics: China, Cyberinfrastructure, Development
Keywords: wireless and mobile network infrastructures, Post-socialist China, Sino-American Science & Technology Cooperations
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 46
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper studies the wireless and mobile netoworks infrastructures, the immobile, material, and physical networks, that undergird the immaterial, amorphous, and mobile media environment in contemporary China with an attempt to excavate their almost forgotten history. I focus on two wireless communication infrastructures – the cellular network and the optic-fiber network (allowing the access of wireless LAN), investigating their independent developmental trajectories at the beginning, and then the gradual convergence with the advent of mobile media. Studying the optical fiber networks, I divide the construction history into three stages: first, 1988 -1998, the construction of the national-wide inter-provincial core network, namely “Eight Vertical and Eight Horizontal”; second, 1998-2010, the deployment of broadband networks in urban areas; third, 2010-2020, the development of FTTH networks and the extension of full broadband coverage to rural areas. I also tease out its topological changes in cellular networks, tracing out the launch of 3G networks in 2008 and the “upgrade” to the 4G networks since 2013. Different from American digital infrastructures which originated from the state’s military apparatus of the 1960s, I argue that Chinese wireless communication infrastructures, built concurrently with transportation networks, grew out of the national strategies of industrialization, informatization, and economic reforms. Presenting the complexity of national plan makings and implementations involving wireless infrastructures in association with the marketization of the telecommunication industry and the rise of private enterprise, this paper demonstrates an imbrication of sovereignty with governmental power and proposes a reconceptualization of digital political power in China.

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