Japanese operators gear up for 2020 5G launch

Japan’s telecom regulation body has allocated spectrum to operators DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank and Rakuten this week, as the country gets ready for a 2020 commercial launch goal for 5G.


Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has requested that the operators build out 5G services in major metropolitan centers as well as in rural areas. In exchange for spectrum, operators have committed to build out 5G networks in every prefecture by 2022, Nikkei reports. The ministry has divided the country up into 4,500 blocks and is requiring operators to install base stations in at least half of those blocks by 2025.


DoCoMo has pledged 795 billion yen ($7.14 billion) in network investments, and plans to have 90% of the country covered by 2025. KDDI also hopes to achieve 90% coverage in that time frame and has earmarked 466 billion yen ($4 billion). Softbank expects to have 64% of the country covered by its 5G network by 2025 and is investing 206 billion yen ($1.8 billion).


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Rakuten is something of an outlier in the group. The retailer is not a traditional wireless carrier, but plans to launch 4G services in October 2019, before launching 5G services next year, according to a report from the Japan Times. Rakuten plans to invest some 194 billion yen ($1.7 billion) in its 5G networks. It hopes to have achieved 50% coverage with its 5G network by 2025, and is aiming to acquire 15 million subscribers.


The three carriers and Rakuten have all said they won’t use Huawei equipment for 5G network build outs. The decision is in line with the Japanese government, which opted to ban Huawei products from agency use last year.


Softbank is the only carrier in the country to use Huawei and ZTE, another China-based telecom equipment firm under fire from the U.S., for its 4G networks. That will put Softbank at a disadvantage moving forward, as the operator will need to find new equipment vendors for its 5G network. Softbank and DoCoMo have both used Huawei products in 5G trials.


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Rakuten has named a number of vendors for the 4G network it’s building this year. And at Mobile World Congress 2019, Rakuten said Cisco was installing 4,000 edge nodes for Rakuten’s wireless network.