HO CHI MINH CITY -- Vietnam will start testing a fifth-generation mobile network next year, hoping to put itself at the forefront of the so-called fourth industrial revolution -- the integration of automation and high-speed data communications in manufacturing.
Starting from the capital, Hanoi, and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, the communist country aims to upgrade its mobile network nationwide by 2020.
"Vietnam should be among the first nations to launch 5G services in order to move up in global telecom rankings," Nguyen Manh Hung, the country's new minister of information and communications, said at a conference this week.
The latest iteration of high-speed wireless technology is designed to offer communication with a delay or "latency" of 1 millisecond or less to achieve real-time feedback. Hanoi wants to adopt the technology quickly to keep pace with other countries, Hung said.
Four telecom companies -- Vietnamobile, a joint venture of Hanoi Telecom and Hongkong based Hutchison Asia Telecommunications, and three state-owned entities, Viettel, Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group, MobiFone and Vietnamobile -- are expected to receive 5G testing licenses in January.
Viettel wants to test 5G next year and launch commercially in 2020, said Phung Van Cuong, the company's deputy general director.
VNPT has teamed up with Nokia to develop telecommunications technology, including 5G.
MobiFone, which has lagged its competitors in deploying 4G, earlier this year signed an agreement with Samsung Electronics to boost engineering and commercial cooperation on 4G and 5G networks.
Last July, Ericsson, the largest supplier of mobile broadband technology in the country, which has been upgrading its network in Vietnam from 2G to 3G to 4G, held the first 5G demonstration in the country, in conjunction with Vietnam Authority of Radio Frequency Management.
Vietnam was ranked among the top 20 countries worldwide in terms of mobile broadband subscribers by the International Telecommunication Union, in 1990, three years after it rolled out 2G, according to Hung. But it fell to 115th out of 193 countries by 2017, as it fell far behind other countries in deploying 3G and 4G services. Vietnam finally moved forward with 3G and 4G, but it is about a decade behind with these standards, which are commonplace elsewhere.
The government considers the telecom industry sensitive, and licensing is complicated. That has slowed its development. Hung, who is the former chairman and general director of the military-backed Viettel, hopes to simplify the approval process to boost Vietnam's information technology sector, particularly for products made domestically.
For 2G and 3G, Vietnam relied exclusively on imported equipment, but it has begun producing 4G devices locally, led by Viettel. Hung hinted at measures to help domestic technology companies develop equipment. He has set an ambitious target of turning Vietnam into a major exporter of 5G gear.
Vietnam's telecom market was estimated at more than $16 billion in 2016, with three state-owned providers accounting for 95% of the market. Viettel had the largest share that year with 46.7%, followed by Mobifone with 26.1% and VNTP with 22.2%.
While MobiFone and VNPT are on the list of state-owned companies slated for privatization by 2020, Viettel is to remain in government hands.