For a successful 5G mmWave deployment, look to Japan

Japan has long been a leader of wireless innovation. The country pioneered the 1st- and 2nd-gen cellular networks, and later launched the first commercial 3G network worldwide.


And just a decade ago, Japan was an early promoter and adopter of 4G LTE. Now as we enter the next generation of wireless with 5G, Japan is continuing its legacy.

Japan, specifically NTT DOCOMO, was the first to commercialize 5G sub-6 GHz carrier aggregation. Also in Japan, Rakuten launched the first at-scale cloud-native interoperable and virtualized network, also known as vRAN. And most notably, Japan is the first country where all operators have deployed commercial 5G mmWave: NTT DOCOMO, KDDI, Rakuten, and SoftBank. There was a time when mobilizing mmWave was thought to be impossible, but Qualcomm Technologies invented the breakthroughs, helped create the 3GPP 5G NR specifications, and worked tirelessly to make 5G mmWave a reality. So for us, these historic deployments are an exciting leap forward.

5G mmWave is critical to unleashing the full potential of 5G and addressing the massive increase in mobile data demand. It allows operators to take advantage of the large amount of spectrum resources available in higher bands, enabling them to deliver the world’s fastest multi-gigabit cellular speeds and low latency connectivity. 5G mmWave is also a cost-effective way for mobile operators to increase the network capacity needed to meet the growing demand for data in dense urban, homes and small businesses using fixed wireless access, and enterprise environments.. Compared to sole use of sub-6 GHz bands, savings can reach up to 35 percent in total cost of ownership.

The rollout in Japan is so successful that operators are now deploying 5G mmWave beyond their original plans, despite having access to substantive mid-band spectrum. In six months, the number of mmWave base stations in the country increased more than 3x, from around 2,300 in September 2020 to around 8,100 in March 2021. NTT DOCOMO, for example, is using a combination of sub-6 GHz carrier aggregation and 5G mmWave to enable accelerated deployment of its 5G service areas. 

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This deployment and others showcase the capabilities, performance, and cost-effectiveness of 5G mmWave. They also offer a blueprint for other mmWave rollouts. It’s particularly exciting as 5G mmWave momentum continues through the world, with deployments from all major operators in the U.S. and Japan, recent deployments in Europe and South East Asia, and more coming soon in regions such as Australia and Latin America. China is also set to deploy 5G mmWave for the Winter Olympics early next year.

If you’re visiting Japan, you’ll see people there using 5G mmWave devices such as the (l-r): the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Pocket WiFi 5G A004ZT, and Sony Xperia 1 III.

From its promise to provide top wireless performance and capacity in stadiums and workplaces to downtown areas, smart industrial plants, and homes via fixed wireless access, mmWave is the technology that can allow for the full potential of 5G. mmWave is not only an essential part of the 5G system, but also provides mobile operators with a critical competitive advantage to address massive increases in mobile data demand and to expand 5G into fixed wireless, enterprise, and industrial applications. At Qualcomm Technologies, we’re all about making the world more connected than it’s ever been with the power of 5G, and the possibilities for 5G mmWave to transform industries and enrich lives are virtually limitless.

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