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.