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European operators step up 5G tests and trials

European operators are stepping up their 5G trials now that the first wave of New Radio (NR) standards is finalized, even if most of them will be planning to deploy the second wave, 5G NR Standalone, due to be ratified mid-year.

Nokia said last week that BT/EE, Deutsche Telekom, Elisa, Telia and Vodafone Group (as well as Asia’s KT, LGU+, NTT Docomo, Optus and SK Telecom), have all committed to working with it, and Qualcomm, in verifying and trialling 5G NR. Both Nokia and Ericsson have worked with Qualcomm to complete interoperability testing between their base stations and the US firm’s device prototypes, using the new 5G NR Non-Standalone specifications. This is an important milestone for both vendors, and the operators, to move to field trials of the standards, ahead of commercial launches from 2019 onwards.

Elisa is also one of the European operators which has been conducting trials with Huawei too. The Finnish operator has tested virtual reality, augmented reality and gaming applications in the 3.5 GHz band, working with the Chinese vendor. It achieved speeds up to 1.4Gbps between a base station and handset during the trial, which took place in the Helsinki suburb of Pasila.

Unlike the Nokia and Ericsson tests, both device and base station came from the same supplier – Huawei was using its pre-commercial 5G handsets, which are expected to launch around year end or in early 2019.

Kalle Lehtinen, CTO at Elisa, said: “5G is just around the corner, and we believe that we will start to see applications that utilize the 5G network already in 2018. We are focusing on 5G, and we are engaged in a great deal of cooperation with our partners to test and develop new technologies.”

Meanwhile in France, Orange held a showcase in Paris last week, called Événement 5G d’Orange, in which it said it would not launch commercial 5G services until at least 2020, but would conduct a series of technical tests and trials, including work on fixed wireless in Romania and autonomous vehicles in France.

Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, executive director of innovation, marketing and technologies, said LTE and 5G were complementary” at Orange, adding: “Needs are not going to change from one day to next because of 5G. Usage is doubling every year. We need to allow people to do what they are doing with better quality of service.”

Orange also said it would work with Ericsson on France’s first end-to-end test network in Lille and Douai between mid-2018 and mid-2019, using the 700 MHz and 3.4-3.8 GHz bands. Orange already owns the former, while regulator Arcep will need to issue permits to trial the latter, something it said last year that it would do on temporary basis before auctioning that midband spectrum in 2019.

In a second project with Ericsson, Orange will provide 4G and 5G connectivity to UTAC CERAM, the French centre for testing and certification of autonomous vehicles.
Planned for launch this autumn, the dedicated network will allow UTAC and partners to test the 5G requirements for autonomous vehicles at its testing track in Paris.

The fixed wireless trial will be in partnership with Samsung and Cisco, and will explore the potential of 5G fixed wireless access as an alternative to fiber-to-the-home, or as a back-up or temporary solution for enterprises.

The operator also said it was working with Nokia and German antenna maker Kathrein on a smart antenna combining 5G with 2G, 3G and 4G, and small enough to be mounted on existing tower sites.

In Austria, T-Mobile has introduced a pre-standard 5G implementation to the city of Innsbruck, working with Huawei. The operator installed two radio cells in the 3.7 GHz band using specifications close to those of 5G NR. The cells have delivered speeds of 2Gbps and latency of 3ms. TMO is conducting a virtual reality demo to showcase the technology, as well as another demo of drone control.

The Austrian auction of spectrum in the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz band is set to take place in autumn 2018 and TMO has called for a simple process to be adopted to facilitate progress.

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