May 30, 2014 1:17 am JST

Japan looking to launch 5G mobile service in 2020

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will support domestic corporations in their efforts to make 5G (fifth-generation) mobile networks a reality in 2020 ahead of rivals in other countries, paving the way for Japanese technologies to become the global standard.

     The Communications Ministry intends to meet with private-sector companies as early as this year to discuss development of 5G technologies. The three big mobile carriers -- NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank -- are expected to participate, as are manufacturers of handsets and base stations, including Panasonic, Sharp and Fujitsu. The ministry may seek funds for development of 5G phones in the fiscal 2015 budget.

     Smartphones in Japan mostly use LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology, also known as 3.9G, which debuted in 2010. Carriers are seen beginning to offer 4G service around 2016 using spectrum to be allocated later this year, but there have been no clear timelines set for the introduction of more advanced technologies.

     The ministry has drawn up plans for 5G networks to go onstream in 2020. The target speed is 10 gigabits per second -- 100 times faster than LTE and 10 times the speed of 4G. This will make possible the smooth transmission of next-generation video such as 4K, which has quadruple the resolution of standard high definition, and 8K. Trial broadcasts of 4K programming are slated to start in Japan next month, with 8K testing expected to begin in 2016.

     Europe, China, South Korea and other countries are also racing to commercialize 5G mobile technologies, and their target launch dates and performance figures are in the same ballpark. Technologies for making use of high frequencies, which are suitable for carrying large amounts of data, and those for minimizing interference between base stations are said to be among the key challenges. But no nation has decided which technology it will use.

     In Japan, Docomo is already conducting R&D in the field of 5G. The Japanese government hopes to bring universities and corporations together to accelerate development. A concerted effort would also make it easier to form technological development partnerships with other countries and to get Japanese technologies adopted as the international standard.