Japanese carrier SoftBank Corp has unveiled plans to launch 5G commercial services on 27 March 2020, as the race to dominate the next generation of mobile technology gets underway. The Nikkei Asian Review notes, however, that initial coverage is likely to be limited and that national coverage will not occur until 2021 at the earliest. With only a limited number of suitable base stations installed, the MNO expects that from launch 5G connectivity will be restricted to certain areas in Tokyo, Chiba, Osaka, Ishikawa, Aichi, Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures. Further, it stresses that even in the capital, 5G services will only be available in certain locations, such as in and around Tokyo Station. Logistical issues aside, in terms of deploying new base stations, 5G signals have a more limited range than 4G, while operators are also constrained as they cannot yet use all the frequencies allocated them due to concerns over interference with satellite broadcasts.
SoftBank, the domestic arm of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group Corp, is expected to offer the new service for JPY1,000 (USD9) a month, or free for 24 months if they sign up by 31 August 2020, the Nikkei says. Going forward, Son’s mobile unit is targeting coverage of 90% of the population by end-2021 – a situation that will be boosted if and when the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) starts allowing some frequency bands to be converted for 5G from the summer. Given that SoftBank has a total of around 230,000 base stations on air in Japan, such a move will be welcome.
Rivals NTT DOCOMO and KDDI (au) are expected to announce their owns plans for 5G shortly, with new fourth MNO Rakuten Mobile having set out its stall to kick off full-blown operations from April.