Japan’s SoftBank to boost orders for 5G-ready equipment from ZTE, Huawei

The Chinese firms will supply SoftBank as it embarks on an aggressive domestic roll-out of Massive Mimo, a key technology behind 5G

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 7:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 December, 2016, 9:46am

SoftBank Corp, the domestic telecommunications subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp, plans to raise its orders of advanced, 5G-ready mobile equipment from Chinese suppliers ZTE and Huawei Technologies under an aggressive nationwide infrastructure roll-out next year.

Shenzhen-based ZTE and Huawei helped SoftBank launch in September the world’s first commercial deployment of so-called Massive Mimo, a large-scale antenna system that represents one of the key technologies behind future 5G networks, in about 100 sites mostly located in Tokyo.

“We will increase the number of Massive Mimo sites to a few thousands nationwide by the end of next year,” Hidebumi Kitahara, the senior director for mobile network planning at SoftBank, said in an interview. “We’re working with both ZTE and Huawei to increase the capacity of our network.”

Kitahara pointed out that SoftBank was also collaborating with the two companies on the development and future deployment of second-generation Massive Mimo technology in Japan.

We’re working with both ZTE and Huawei to increase the capacity of our network
Hidebumi Kitahara, SoftBank

Such demand appears to show that infrastructure sales growth for Huawei, the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment supplier, and Hong Kong-listed ZTE would continue to remain strong, despite the anticipated gradual decline of 4G-related capital spending in their home market by China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

Kitahara said SoftBank is looking to be “very aggressive” in its nationwide programme to have “5G anywhere” by 2020, when Tokyo will host that year’s Summer Olympics.

SoftBank, which had 32.3 million subscribers as of September 30, is Japan’s third-largest mobile network operator behind NTT DoCoMo and KDDI au.

Parent SoftBank Group has a 28 per cent stake in New York-traded e-commerce services giant Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post.

On September 16, SoftBank and affiliate Wireless City Planning started their “5G Project” that set Massive Mimo implementation as an integral part of plans for full 5G mobile services in Japan by 2020.

“Massive Mimo is the starting point for the 5G era,” Kitahara said. He added that SoftBank’s existing 4G network has seen a tenfold increase in capacity since September, allowing the operator to keep up with fast-growing data traffic.

Industry standards for 5G remain under development. The International Telecommunications Union, an agency under the United Nations, is responsible for designating the standards for 5G, technically known as IMT-2020.

High-speed 5G networks can achieve theoretical speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second, compared to 1Gbps for 4G networks. Latency, or the time required for a request for data to receive a reply when clicking an app, is envisioned to be 1 millisecond or less on 5G, compared to 10ms on 4G.

Leo Chao, the chief marketing officer for network systems at ZTE Japan, said the company was also developing other 5G-ready solutions, including Distributed Mimo.

In November, ZTE opened a new research and development centre in Tokyo focused on 5G and other next-generation network technologies.