By Josh Horwitz and Sijia Jiang
SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's tech industry ministry on Thursday granted 5G licenses to China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Broadcasting Network Corp, marking a major benchmark in China's race to deploy and popularize 5G.
Telecom industry experts believe the technology could pave the way for major advances in technologies like artificial intelligence and autonomous driving.
China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology had granted licenses at the end of 2018 to China's three state-owned carriers to conduct 5G trials but this is the first time it has given the go-ahead for full commercial deployment.
In a notice published on the ministry's website, official Miao Wei said the ministry welcomes foreign enterprises to actively participate in China's 5G market after the license issuance.
Shares in China's 5G-related firms such as ZTE slumped after the news, as investors pocketed gains.
The license grant comes just after Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, China's largest network equipment maker, was slapped with restrictions from Washington that prevent U.S.-based companies from supplying products to it.
Lawmakers in Washington have also called to bar Huawei from building out the domestic 5G networks for U.S. carriers, citing national security concerns. They have also urged governments in other countries to do the same.
Huawei says it has no formal ties to the Chinese government and poses no threat to national security.
In a statement released just after Beijing announced the commercial licenses, Huawei touted its advances in developing 5G technology.
It said that to date it has signed 46 5G commercial contracts in 30 countries, and 5G base stations have shipped more than 100,000 units.
(Reporting by David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai, and Sijia Jiang in Hong Kong; Editing by Stephen Coates)