Big names in wireless communication and network equipment are moving to start next-generation 5G mobile service by 2019 — a year earlier than they had planned — which is likely to give a boost to innovations such as connected cars that depend on faster data speeds.
Accelerating the shift to fifth-generation networks has been a common theme at the Mobile World Congress that began here Monday. South Korean wireless company KT, which showed off its 5G technology at the Winter Olympics, said it expects a commercial launch in 2019.
Japan’s three big carriers are expected to spend a total of 10 trillion yen ($93 billion) on domestic 5G networks by 2020 with an eye to starting service in time for the Tokyo Olympics that year. NTT Docomo plans to “begin full-fledged investment” next year, President Kazuhiro Yoshizawa said, while KDDI and SoftBank Group are also poised to step up spending.
For now, the three carriers remain cautious about moving up the start of commercial 5G service to 2019, but they appear not to have ruled out the possibility. Japan’s communications ministry plans to allocate spectrum for 5G services by the end of fiscal 2018.
Top U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless, which competes with SoftBank unit Sprint, could start commercial 5G service for mobile devices as early as the first half of 2019, Executive Vice President Ronan Dunne told The Nikkei on Monday.
Networks built on 5G technology can send data over long distances with nearly no lag, as well as handle large volumes of data, connecting as many as 1 million devices in a single sq. kilometer. These capabilities will be essential for delivering content such as virtual reality, as well as for self-driving cars and remotely controlled robots.
China’s Huawei Technologies envisions 5G technology used in connected vehicles and drones for logistics and other purposes. China Mobile has signed deals with Swedish wireless equipment maker Ericsson and Finnish peer Nokia to develop 5G-enabled smart factories.
Faster data transmission could also stimulate growth in fields beyond manufacturing and transportation, such as telemedicine.
Ericsson forecasts the number of subscriptions for 5G services to reach 1 billion by the end of 2023. Total capital and R&D spending for 5G in seven countries leading in the field, including China, Japan and South Korea, will average over $200 billion a year between 2020 and 2035, according to U.K. research firm IHS Markit.