5G mobile network deployment plans in Japan are ramping up, with total investment between network operators reaching 1.6 trillion yen ($14.4 billion) over the next five years, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
Network deployments are expected to begin in 2020, making Japan uncharacteristically late to deploy 5G networks, considering NTT Docomo’s involvement in the creation of LTE. For comparison, KT launched 5G services in South Korea on April 5, and Verizon launched 5G mobile services in parts of Chicago and Minneanpolis on April 3, though CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt described the experience as “frustrating.” AT&T claims to have 5G networks operational in 19 cities, though offers no phones that support the network. (AT&T’s “5G E” network is actually 4G LTE Advanced.)
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NTT Docomo, the largest network operator in Japan, will invest a minimum of 795 billion yen ($7.16 billion) in 5G over the next five years, followed by 466 billion yen ($4.18 billion) pledged by KDDI. SoftBank–which owns Sprint–is pledging only 206 billion yen ($1.85 billion), with Rakuten planning 194 billion yen ($1.74 billion) to deploy 5G services.
Rakuten presently operates as a MVNO in Japan, though is planning to activate its own LTE network this October, making the e-commerce giant a full competitor to NTT Docomo, KDDI’s au network, and SoftBank Mobile. Competition from Rakuten, as well as government pressure to lower subscription rates, is likely to drive down prices for mobile services in Japan.
Mobile network operators are required to deploy 5G across all 43 prefectures in Japan within two years, according to Nikkei. The communications ministry divided the country into 4,500 service blocks, requiring base stations to be placed in at least half within five years. NTT Docomo and KDDI plan to exceed 90% within that deadline, with SoftBank and Rakuten aiming for 64% and 56%, respectively.
Last December, the government prohibited the purchase of 5G network equipment from Huawei or ZTE using public funds. Similar bans around the world have shifted Huawei’s business, as the company now sells more consumer devices than telecom equipment. Despite repeated accusations by the US government that Huawei assists the Chinese government in espionage, no evidence of this has been provided. Huawei’s track record for security, however, has taken several blows las month. An oversight board in the UK indicated that Huawei’s products contain “significant” engineering flaws, and a faulty Windows 10 driver on Huawei PCs was found to open systems to “full compromise.”