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Partnerships drive latest 5G trials with a focus on lower cost

There may be regional rivalry between government-backed 5G projects (see separate item), with national pride and commercial interests at stake. But there are also many cross-regional partnerships, which will help to drive 5G to reality more rapidly, for everyone.

The latest such alliance was announced last week by KT of Korea, which will work with AT&T on 5G and SDN/NFV developments. Executives from the two operators met at KT’s R&D Center and the companies aim to tap into one another’s key areas of R&D prowess – AT&T’s in SDN, and KT’s in 5G radio.

Lee Dong-myeon, director of KT’s Technology Convergence Center, said the deal would “create synergies to solve challenges of the telecom industry in the future”. It will complement KT’s existing collaboration with AT&T rival Verizon, which focuses on interoperability between their respective network orchestration platforms, and on mutual membership of the Verizon-led 5G Open Trial Specification Alliance. This has devised a pre-standard spec to enable operators to deploy 5G-class services at an early stage. Other members include NTT Docomo of Japan and KT’s arch-rival SK Telecom.

NTT Docomo has always been a technology and deployment frontrunner, from its pre-standard 3G network, FOMA, to its plans for 5G services at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. But it has also been vocal in insisting that 5G deployment must be far less capex-heavy than 3G or 4G, and it is partnering with its main rivals, KDDI and Softbank, to help reduce costs.

The three companies plan to invest a combined ¥5 trillion ($45.5bn) towards deploying 5G services, according to local reports, with Docomo targeting national coverage as early as 2023. This will be less than the combined spend on 4G, which reached ¥6 trillion.

The trio will work together to accelerate progress and reduce capex. The report says that NTT Group has proposed a base station sharing arrangement with KDDI and Softbank so that they can deploy more efficiently, which in turn will help fend off the challenge from low cost challenger operators in the highly saturated market.

On the other side of the world, Canada’s Telus is working with Huawei on using preliminary 5G NR specs to demonstrate 5G wireless-to-the-premise (WTTx). Part of a long-standing 5G-related cooperation, the initial showcase saw 28 GHz spectrum being used to support a real world point-to-multipoint (PMP) connection over commercial central office equipment and transport networks. This followed October 2016 demonstrations of 28 GHz links which enabled peak speeds of 29.3Gbps, in the two companies’ 5G Living Lab in Vancouver.

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