People’s Liberation Army troops dispatched to several islands and reefs in the South China Sea are set to surf the Internet at unparalleled speed free of charge, courtesy of China’s three state telecom carriers, which have been collaborating with the military to erect towers and construct base stations for an ultrafast wireless 4.5G network encompassing the vast sea.

Deep discounts are also being offered to non-military personnel.

Signals are best picked up on the PLA-occupied islets and atolls of the Paracel Islands, known as Xisha in Mandarin, and the Spratly archipelago (Nansha), as well as in the surrounding waters, according to the PLA Daily.

China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom have granted all soldiers and marines there free access to their respective networks.

The networks will be fully operational by May.

Previously troops on these islands – including the newly created Sansha city of some 1,500 residents as the administrative center of the South China Sea, part of Beijing’s ambitious territorial claims – mostly relied on satellite dishes for military and civil communications with the mainland.

Installing towers, transmitters and switches on Xisha and Nansha islands was technologically challenging because of the humidity, typhoons, wind and water erosion, and the long-distance transmission requirements, as well as the particular topography of each island and reef. The military was actively involved throughout the construction process.

PLA warships and planes patrolling in the region use military radio channels for communications, but with the new 4.5G network up and running, crews can also tap civil channels as a backup contingency plan.

The three carriers will also welcome international users, notably foreign fishing vessels and cargo ships that ply routes in the South China Sea.