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Japan’s 5G Future Takes Shape

Japan’s 5G prospects are coming into view as the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has allocated and assigned spectrum for 5G services to the nation’s three major incumbent network operators and startup Rakuten, which is evolving from an e-commerce juggernaut to a new entrant in wireless telecom.

Japan enjoyed an early lead in deploying previous generations of wireless networks, but has fallen behind as operators in the United States and South Korea have already launched limited 5G services. Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, SoftBank, and Rakuten have all committed to build nationwide 5G networks by 2022, but initial services are slated to go live beginning next year.

The four companies are set to invest a combined $14.4 billion in their networks during the next five years, according to Nikkei. NTT DoCoMo will lead the way with $7.1 billion in investments, followed by KDDI’s pledge of $4.16 billion in investments, SoftBank’s $1.84 billion in investments, and Rakuten’s planned $1.73 billion in spending.

As part of the allocation, Japan’s telecom regulators organized the country into 4,500 blocks and is requiring the four operators to provide 5G coverage in at least half of those blocks by 2025. Like governments elsewhere, Japan is also using the transition from 4G to 5G as an opportunity to increase coverage in rural areas.

Chinese Vendors Unwelcome

Japan’s telecom regulatory body also imposed a condition that effectively bans Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE from the country’s 5G networks.

All four carriers have agreed to the stipulation. However, that requirement will be more difficult for SoftBank, which in the process of replacing Huawei equipment used in its 4G LTE network.

Japan’s largest wireless operator, DoCoMo, conducted numerous 5G trials with Huawei, but the company eventually inked a deal with Nokia for 5G equipment. SoftBank also conducted 5G trials with Huawei and ZTE.

All four companies are pursuing 5G as they face new pressure from the government to cut the fees they charge to customers. Rakuten’s entrance into the market could dramatically change the landscape with increased competition. It plans to launch a cloud-based 4G LTE service later this year, followed by an evolution to 5G in 2020.

Rakuten is an anomaly in the wireless industry. The company, which boasts more than 1.2 billion customers (including 100 million in Japan) in e-commerce, communications, and financial technology, is building a greenfield network that will be fully virtualized and defined by software with mobile edge computing architecture.―SDX Central

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