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Japan scrambles to launch 5G by spring

Jan 21. 2020
The Associated Press
People look at 5G phones at the Samsung booth during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.
The Associated Press People look at 5G phones at the Samsung booth during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.
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By The Japan News : By Go Tateishi and Naoki Ogawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondents/ANN

SEOUL/BEIJING — Fifth-generation wireless technology (5G), which enables high-speed and high-capacity mobile communications services, is set to be rolled out in Japan this spring. With South Korea and China leading the 5G push in terms of smartphone sales and the construction of base stations, the Japanese government is in a hurry to launch the next-generation mobile technology.

Available in South Korea since April 2019, 5G services were being used by 4.5 million users as of December.

In central Seoul, banners promoting 5G compatible devices stand out as manufacturers tout their latest products.

A 45-year-old who had bought a 5G device for stock trading said: “I wanted to be able to trade faster even if it is only by 0.1 seconds. I feel like now I can buy and sell faster than anyone who doesn’t use a 5G device.” 

A 24-year-old smartphone store employee said, “Downloading movies is less frustrating because I can download them in just a few seconds.”

In China, 5G smartphone services went into full swing last November. According to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, shipments of 35 new models of 5G capable phones reached 13.77 million units last year.

Smartphone manufacturer Beijing Xiaomi Technology Co. launched a low-cost smartphone priced at 1,999 yuan (about ¥31,000) in January.

Communication speed is one of the major benefits of 5G, which is capable of transmitting roughly 100 times more data than the current wireless standard, 4G.

This will not only allow faster video downloads, but will also enable the realization of such technological goals as autonomous driving and remote medical procedures.

Various services specially designed and optimized for the 5G network were displayed this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where major companies jostled to promote their cutting-edge technologies, such as autonomous driving, virtual reality and the transmission of high-resolution 8K images captured by drones.

However, the 5G environment is not yet in a state for the technology to be fully utilized, even overseas.

According to South Korea’s science and technology ministry, there were about 94,000 5G base stations in the country as of December, but the connection is not stable in subways or indoors, with some criticism expressed over the premature launch of the technology.

In the United States, major telecommunication firm Verizon Communications Inc. had made the service available in about 30 cities by the end of December, but the areas where services are available are still limited.

In Japan, the government plans to launch a “local 5G” system in spring, with 5G infrastructure set to be installed in limited areas and facilities. The system is expected to be used for data communication in places such as office buildings, factories and hospitals. 

Mobile networks are expected to announce their billing plans and sales prices of compatible consumer smartphones from as early as March.


Rivals sprint out to big lead

By Tatsuro Fukushima / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Japan’s 5G rollout lags behind other countries such as South Korea, the United States and China, with the number of base stations remaining at about 450 in the country.

According to China’s Industry and Information Technology Ministry, the number of 5G base stations in China by the end of 2019 had reached about 126,000 in only a few months, nearly five times NTT Docomo Inc.’s target of 26,000 by fiscal 2024.

Japanese base station manufacturers are also losing ground. According to an estimate by U.K. research firm IHS Markit, Sweden’s Ericsson ranks first in the volume of 5G-related devices shipped, followed by Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea, Nokia of Finland and Huawei Technologies Co. of China. Japanese manufacturers have little presence in the market.

Manufacturers in China and South Korea have invested heavily in research and development, with support from their governments. Huawei, in particular, has been gaining momentum in recent years, with its competitive prices and technological capabilities highly rated. 

“If Huawei is top of the pack, European manufacturers are in second place. The question is whether or not Japanese manufacturers could secure third place,” said a senior official at an economy-related government body. 

Due to the growing risks of information eavesdropping, it is necessary to ensure the safety of 5G devices. 

The Japanese government plans to submit a new bill to the Diet in a bid to promote the introduction of secure digital devices and support Japanese manufacturers in terms of tax breaks and research and development.

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