NTT kicks-off 5G foray at Rugby World Cup

There might be more attention given to the rugby than mobile networks in Tokyo right now, but the World Cup is giving NTT Docomo a pleasant opportunity to test out its 5G smarts.

Last Friday, the Rugby World Cup kick-off in Japan and NTT said it was also offering a trial 5G service ahead of a full-commercial launch in Spring 2020. According to local press, 5G devices will be set-up in local stores to allow for a more in-depth experience of the games, while the telco has also announced it will step-up deployment plans.

“We are marking Friday as the day we begin our full-fledged 5G services,” said NTT Docomo President Kazuhiro Yoshizawa.

Although this is progress, what is worth noting is this is little more than a dress-rehearsal for the telco. As one of the official partners of the Rugby World Cup, NTT has an excellent opportunity to test out how the network will perform under strain. Lessons learned here will be passed onto the next big-ticket event, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

This is an event which will give NTT the opportunity to show-off what it can do and put itself in a leading-position in the 5G race. The world will be watching the Olympics, huge numbers of fans will flood into the country and connectivity will be tested to the extreme.

Alongside the announcement of the 5G trial, NTT has also said it will speed-up 5G deployment plans over the next couple of months. Given one of its rivals, Softbank, said that was shifting up a gear last week, it was only going to be a matter of time before NTT followed suit.

By next June, NTT has suggested it will be ready to launch the 5G connectivity onto the waiting masses, with plans to have 10,000 base stations in action by the spring of 2021. The team also wants 60% population coverage by 2023, a reasonable objective and certainly not one of the most aggressive we have seen around the world.

While Japan was arguably one of the leading voices in the 5G arena during the early years, it has maybe fallen into the shadows. This is nothing to do with the continued progress of the Japanese telcos, but perhaps due to the fact others around the world have been much more vocal and bullish. Realistically, it doesn’t matter a huge amount whether the 5G networks are switched-on or not right now, the big difference will be how quickly the telcos can scale the coverage footprint.

This is a challenge which will be faced by every nation around the world, though with the Rugby World Cup and the Summer Olympics next year, Japan has an excellent opportunity to stake a claim for global leadership.

NTT Docomo set to ditch Huawei phones over Android fears – report

Japanese operator group NTT Docomo will not offer Huawei smartphones when it launches its 5G network next year, according to a report.

The scoop comes courtesy of Nikkei Asian Review, which chatted to some NTT execs that preferred to keep it on the QT. The reason for this sudden reticence is fairly simple: if Google pulls the plug on Android support for Huawei phones the operator doesn’t want to be stuck with thousands of very expensive bricks that nobody wants to buy.

If this is true then it sets a very alarming precedent for Huawei, especially if the other Japanese operators follow suit. Japan was apparently Huawei’s fifth largest market last year and is right in the middle of the geopolitical arm wrestle between the US and China that has forced Google’s hand when it comes to Android support for Huawei phones.

The Nikkei Asian Review is on good form today, having also learned that Softbank is hoping to launch its 5G network two years ahead of schedule. How great an achievement this is, however, is open to debate, since many 5G networks around the world are already live. If the original projection by Softbank was that it wasn’t going to get its 5G act together until 2022 then it just as well it has belatedly pulled its socks up.

All four operators are awarded 5G licences in Japan, with security conditions attached

NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank, and Rakuten have all received the 5G licences they applied for, but they come with coverage obligations and security commitment.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced on 10 April (in Japanese) that all the four applicants have been awarded radio frequencies and licences to rollout 5G services. Each licensee is awarded 400MHz spectrum on the 28GHz frequency, while three of them are awarded 200MHz on 3.7GHz except Rakuten, which has requested 100MHz.

All the operators are going to roll out 5G services starting in 2020. NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank will launch the service in spring time, with Rakuten planning to open its service in June. The total investment planned by the operators to the end of 2024 amounted to Yen 1.6 trillion ($14.4 billion).

While both NTT DoCoMo and KDDI have pledged to cover over 90% of the country within five years, Softbank only plans to cover 64% of the country and Rakuten 56%. The minimum requirement from the government is serving every prefecture within two years, and at least 50% of the whole country within five years, calculated by the number of geographical blocks the networks will cover out of the total 4,500 blocks the Ministry divides the country into.

In addition to coverage requirement, the Ministry has also attached a dozen granting conditions (pp.16-17 of the summary, in Japanese), including commitments to expand optical fibre networks (#2), to improve safety measures to minimise outage during natural disasters (#3), to prevent interference of existing radio licensees (#7) etc.

The item that may raise eyebrows is Item 4 on the list, which requires the operators to “take appropriate cyber security measures including measures to respond to supply chain risks” (unofficial translation). It refers to earlier regulations including the “”Information and telecommunications network safety and reliability standards” published by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in 1987, “Common Standards Group for Information Security Measures for Government Agencies and Related Agencies” issued by the National Information Security Center (NISC) in 2018, and the cross-departmental “Agreement on IT procurement policy and procedures for goods and services” published on 10 December 2018.

The last two documents, though neither of them names any particular countries or brands to be excluded, have been broadly recognised as the Japanese government’s decision to ban companies like Huawei and ZTE from public sector procurements. By invoking these regulations, it may not be too much of a stretch to read it as a message to the operators to stop using equipment supplied by the Chinese vendors. This may not cause serious disruptions to the operators’ business though, as Softbank, the only operator that has Huawei equipment on its network, is already planning to swap for Ericsson and Nokia, Nikkei reported earlier.

Japanese 5G licensees

5G ROI is a no-brainer for us – Orange

5G is clearly critical for the digital economy of tomorrow, but the expensive job of rolling out the networks take a bit more cunning thought.

Speaking on a panel session at Total Telecom Congress in London, Yves Bellégo, Director of Network Strategy at Orange pointed out there is no debate on the ROI for 5G. It’s simple; 5G enables us to deliver data significantly cheaper. With internet traffic continuing to explode, and mobile usage heading north as well, why wouldn’t anyone want to invest in something which can make business operations cheaper.

But here is the clincher; rolling out these networks is an expensive job, and ROI still hasn’t be completely justified. Telcos will have to accept the ‘build it and they will come’ attitude, though trying selling that to accountants. As Takehiro Nakamura, General Manager of 5G Labs at NTT Docomo pointed out, 5G will not just be there overnight, the rollout out will be gradual and it will be years before the concept of nationwide if even close to a reality because of this very reason.

For 5G to realise its potential, there will need to be considerable thought to identify the services which can be offered from Day One. It isn’t going to be as simple as offering a sweeping portfolio of new services, with the progressive rollout which many telcos have in mind, with 4G and 5G working alongside for years to come, difficult choices will have to be made.

Fortunately, a lot of these services can be offered on 4G, though as Ramy Boctor, CTO of Vodafone Qatar, pointed out, the performance will just be better on 5G. Perhaps this will play into the hands of the telcos; limited supply and potentially high demand, a perfect recipe for making money.

This is perhaps a fact which is lost in the buzz and hype; 5G will be incredibly limited for years to come. The rollout will take time, upgrading existing sites will take time, densifying the network with new sites will take time. This is not something many people seem to be saying, but it is worth remembering.

Nokia takes 5G to the edge in Brooklyn

Networking vendor Nokia is using a 5G event in New York to show off some of its latest shiny things.

The Brooklyn 5G Summit describes itself as a ‘5G technology summit hosted in Brookly, NY’, which seems hard to argue with. The listed contact from the event is a Nokia email address so we’re going to assume Nokia runs the whole thing unless advised otherwise, and there don’t seem to be any other vendors involved.

The big thing Nokia is looking to bring attention to this year is its Edge Cloud datacenter solution, which is inevitably being positioned as 5G-ready. Nokia has been putting a lot of effort into the datacenter side of things in recent years via its AirFrame portfolio, which looks like an increasingly wise bet as edge computing becomes ever more prominent in the telecoms world.

This announcement concerns a server specifically designed for edge computing. It puts an emphasis on open architectures and software for fast deployment (it’s OPNFV compatible), and support for ultra-low latency to support things like automation and Cloud RAN. All this stuff plays a big role in 5G so that juxtaposition seems fair enough in this case.

“The edge cloud will play an essential role in delivering the compute power required for 5G,” said Marc Rouanne, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “By expanding our AirFrame and 5G Future X portfolio we can provide a network architecture that meets the needs of any operator and their customers.

“Used with the Nokia ReefShark chipset and our real-time cloud infrastructure software, the Nokia AirFrame open edge server will deliver the right decentralization of 4G and 5G networks. We can work with operators to ensure that data center capabilities are deployed exactly where they are needed to manage demands as they expand their service offering.”

“The edge cloud is an integral part of 5G network architecture, bringing more processing capabilities closer to where data is generated and consumed,” said Dan Rodriguez, GM of the Communications Infrastructure Division at Intel. “Nokia’s new AirFrame open edge solution is built on Intel Xeon Scalable processors, which offer the needed balance of compute, I/O and memory capacity for the edge cloud to work seamlessly across the wide range of workloads deployed on the edge.”

And that’s not the only piece of 5G-related goodness Nokia has bestowed on the grateful residents of Brooklyn this week. Nokia Bell Labs has persuaded NTT DOCOMO to get involved in some demo some millimetre wave tech involving a phased-array chip solution for the 90 GHz band to increase radio coverage in higher frequency bands and deliver multi-gigabit speeds at scale.

The main point of this demo seem to be to show the viability of 5G at these very high frequencies, including the use of a large number of antennas and also show how dynamic offloading relocation in a 5G core will enable low-latency networks.

“At Bell Labs, we work with leading operators such as NTT DOCOMO to develop disruptive technologies that will redefine human existence,” said Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon. “At the Brooklyn 5G Summit, we will show the world’s first RF solution that addresses the challenge of delivering optimized coverage for future mmWave frequencies, using a pioneering RFIC design that can be scaled to any array dimension and deliver optimized connectivity to any set of devices.”

Nokia crows about flogging some kit again

Japanese operator NTT Docomo bought some baseband gear from Nokia. That’s it – nothing else happened – sorry.

It was great gear though, with all the bells and whistles like antenna and flashing LEDs and that. In fact, as far as baseband gear goes, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to call it legendary. KDDI and Softbank are going to be sooo jealous when NTT installs these paragons of shininess. They’re going to want to just chuck their basebands in the bin.

And as if that’s not enough these basebands are totally 5G as well. You know you get some basebands that say they’re 5G but you can just tell their heart isn’t in it? This isn’t one of those times – these are 110% 5G to the max. They’re the 5G-est basebands you’ll ever see. If you said ‘4G’ to them they’d be like: “I don’t even know what you’re talking about bruv, I’m all about the 5G innit.”

“We have been collaborating with partners such as Nokia on various 5G technology and use case trials since 2014,” said NTT CTO Hiroshi Nakamura. “With this agreement with Nokia, we are now proceeding to the next step to launch 5G mobile services by 2020, and accelerate co-creation of new services and businesses with vertical industry partners.”

“The agreement with NTT Docomo is a major milestone in bringing 5G to commercial reality, especially in a country with a long and proud history of technological achievements and early technology adoption,” said Marc Rouanne, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “Together we have worked hard in recent months to commence preparations for NTT Docomo’s eventual launch of its operational 5G service by 2020, which we have now set in motion by this very exciting announcement today.”

In other news Nokia got some new curtains at its HQ that really brighten up the place and it found a great new sushi place in Helsinki. Furthermore Nokia’s new trainers cost loads more than Ericsson’s, it has a PlayStation 4, an Xbox One and a Nintendo Switch with loads of games and steering wheels and stuff, and its dad could totally batter Ericsson’s dad in a fight.

Huawei and NTT Docomo reach 4.5 Gbps in 5G mmWave trial

Huawei and NTT Docomo have jointly announced a field trial on the 28GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum cruising past 4.5 Gbps.

Taking place in Tokyo Skytree in downtown Tokyo, the trial consisted of a base station working over 28GHz was located on Tokyo Skytree’s viewing deck at a height of 340 metre above the ground, while user equipment was placed on the roof of a shopping facility at Asakusa Station. During the test the pair achieved a 4.52 Gbps downlink throughput and a 1.55 Gbps uplink throughput with a coverage range of 1.2km.

“The high-speed and long distance support is one of important technical challenges for 5G mmWave conditions,” said Gan Bin, VP of Huawei 5G Product Line

“This successful long distance live-demo on a 5G mmWave is a ground breaking achievement in our joint effort with NTT DOCOMO to build a fundamental 5G commercial environment. This success makes us more confident in realizing the goal of commercializing 5G by 2020.”

The base station supported Massive MIMO and beamforming technologies, to support long distance data transmission over the 28 GHz mmWave. As part of the trial, visitors experienced next generation video communication using a Microsoft HoloLens over the end-to-end 5G network. Huawei has said during the demonstration the voice calls were clear, and the video footage was free of any freezing.

This is not the first time the pair have worked together though. Last year, another field trial was conducted in Yokohama Minato Mirai 21 District over the 4.5GHz spectrum band, where 11.29 Gbps throughput speeds and latency of less than 0.5 millisecond were achieved.