China is honing its technical skills in sixth-generation communication networks, which are expected to be rolled out commercially as soon as 2030.
China's 6G development had been expected to slow due to sanctions against Huawei Technologies imposed by the U.S. government under former President Donald Trump in 2019, but China has maintained its competitiveness by mobilizing state-run companies and universities.
Nikkei worked with Tokyo-based research company Cyber Creative Institute to survey around 20,000 patent applications for nine core 6G technologies, including communications, quantum technology, base stations and artificial intelligence.
China topped the list with 40.3% of 6G patent filings, followed by the U.S. with 35.2%. Japan ranked third with 9.9%, followed by Europe with 8.9% and South Korea with 4.2%. Countries with more patent filings tend to lead in terms of advanced technology and have a bigger say on industry standards.
The upcoming generation of mobile communications technology, which is said to be more than 10 times faster than 5G, is expected to enable fully autonomous driving, high-definition virtual reality and worldwide internet connections, even in remote deserts.
China's patent applications are mostly related to mobile infrastructure technology. In the 6G era, aerial coverage, such as satellites, as well as ground base stations for broader radio bands, will be needed. Many of the latest patents have been filed by Huawei, which controlled 30% of the world's base stations in 2020. Other big Chinese patent holders include state-run companies such as State Grid Corporation of China and China Aerospace Science and Technology.
Huawei held the largest number of 5G patents with a nearly 12% share. The Chinese mobile communications giant is likely to have a strong presence in 6G as well.
The company said that it will begin 6G development on its own notwithstanding its U.S. ban and published a 5G-advanced white paper in August.