Japan and South Korea have been leading infrastructure tests throughout the 5G development cycle and will be right up there with the U.S. when they deploy.
South Korean carriers have agreed to build a single 5G network to keep infrastructure costs down and speed up deployment, planning its spectrum auction for June. Commercial deployment has been accelerated to March 2019, with a nationwide rollout complete by 2022.
Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and Softbank have been major investors in the standard so far and are continuing to conduct numerous trials ahead of their rollouts. The 2020 Olympics are the next target for 5G millimeter wave trials in dense urban areas, and an agreement between Nokia and NTT DoCoMo will see commercial services begin later that year.
China is quickly becoming a major 5G player, tipped to accelerate past its Asian rivals and compete with the U.S. for deployment time. The country is home to major telecom infrastructure companies like Huawei and ZTE, which will provide equipment to carriers around the world. China has also invested $180 billion into mainland infrastructure, four times Japan’s investment. China Mobile is trialing its services in major cities this year and plans a full commercial launch in 2020.
Europe has been much slower than the rest of the world at starting its first trials, due to a lack of regulatory insight and low investment. Huawei 5G base stations just received certification in Europe, paving the way for commercial launches.
At the end of last year, European telecommunications ministers unveiled their 5G roadmap for the block. The planning lacks any major detail and many specifics are up to member states and local companies to implement, but even the co-operative elements lag behind other regions. Technical harmonization across spectrum bands isn’t scheduled to begin until 2019, with low-frequency 700MHz assignment scheduled for 2020 and availability expected even later in 2022.
The first 5G city anywhere in the EU is expected to go online sometime in 2020, with a wider rollout scheduled to take place between then and 2025. Given the different infrastructure and financial capabilities across the block, a wide target is expected, but Europe is clearly moving much slower than the U.S. and Asia.
The U.K. has started its spectrum auction process, which saw close to 1.4 billion pounds (~$1.9 billion) paid out by Vodafone, O2,Three, and BT-owned EE — double the initial expectation. Carriers in the country have conducted a few trials, but commercial carrier plans are thin on the ground. EE touts August 2019 as its earliest possible launch date for a London deployment.