Rostelecom sets up 5G pilot zone in Moscow

Russia’s landline incumbent Rostelecom has signed an agreement to set up a 5G pilot zone in Moscow to explore various use cases.

The operator, which moved into mobile services when it acquired 4G spectrum a few years ago, is working with Nokia and technology non-profit organization the Skolkovo Foundation. The latter will host the zone in its innovation centre near the Russian capital.

Among the first use cases to be explored will be self-driving vehicles; ways to use connectivity to improve the efficiency of electricity and heating networks; and smart construction.

Mikhail Oseevsky, president of Rostelecom, said: “The agreement is a logical follow-up of Rostelecom’s efforts aimed at building and testing 5G networks. In May 2017 the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Tatarstan to build and run a 5G network in the Republic. In the framework of the 5G project in Skolkovo, Rostelecom will evaluate the usage of various segments of its frequency resource for advanced technologies, including IMT, with the use of LTE/LTE-Advanced systems.”

Earlier this year, the Moscow mayor’s office was reported to be in talks with a consortium of mobile operators with a view to deploying a commercial 5G network, or at least a downtown 5G zone, in 2020. Megafon and the new entrant Tele2 responded enthusiastically to the reports, but there was no comment from Rostelecom, VimpelCom or MTS – the last of which has questioned the near term 5G business model.

“The consortium may lay the foundation for the joint development of this technology by all the operators,” said Konstantin Prokshin, head of strategic communications at Tele2, while Megafon said government support would be important to reduce the cost and complexity of deployment and power supply. However, this harks back to the Russian authorities’ last attempt to create a shared network in order to accelerate progress to a new network – when it aimed to turn the spectrum and WiMAX network belonging to Yota Networks into a shared LTE resource. The project fell apart amid bickering between the stakeholders, and then became redundant when the major MNOs acquired their own spectrum, leaving Yota to be acquired by Megafon.

Of course, many early 5G roll-outs are being driven by sporting events, which allow a country to showcase early 5G progress but within a constrained environment and service platform. Russia is no exception – it will host the football World Cup in 2018 in Moscow and St Petersburg, and Megafon plans to set up 5G test zones around these events. Spokesperson Yulia Dorokhina said: “One of the main advantages offered by the new network is its huge capacity. The client receives high quality signals in places of mass gathering of people – stadiums, railway stations, traffic jams.”

Megafon has successfully tested mobile data at 1Gbps speeds using Huawei equipment and at 5Gbps in a trial with Nokia.