Is Turkey about to gamble with its mobile broadband future?

Turkey's Prime Minister was widely quoted last week as suggesting that the country's three mobile operators should leapfrog 4G and instead move straight from 3G to 5G to avoid, as he put it, losing time with LTE services. Now, Reuters reports that Tayyip Erdogan is seriously considering cancelling the 4G spectrum auction planned in May, according to comments attributed to Customs and Trade Minister Nurettin Canikli by the HaberTurk daily.

Whatever his motives, such a move seems somewhat drastic. For one thing, Turkey's consumers have waited a long time for better mobile data speeds, and cancelling 4G would mean a further delay of several more years before 'true" mobile broadband becomes a reality. What's more, the market also got 3G much later than many markets in Europe.

Second, Erdogan seems to be under the impression that Turkey will be able to move to 5G in two years. "Within two years Turkey will be on 5G. Otherwise, it will be a garbage dump with 4G. Let's be patient and jump from 3G to 5G. Can we do this? We definitely can," Erdogan said, according to Reuters.

Unless the Prime Minister has some magic formula tucked up his sleeve, this seems rather unlikely. Talk to vendors in the industry and most will tell you that 5G is still in the specification stage and mass-market rollouts are unlikely before 2020-2022. Only a country like South Korea--which is renowned for being highly competitive in the adoption of new mobile technology--is expected to attempt a rollout as soon as 2018, and that's because the country has a rather good platform for a launch in the form of the Winter Olympics.

Japan, again no slouch when it comes to mobile technology adoption, is also hoping for an early implementation of 5G networks to support the Summer Olympics in 2020.

The chances that Turkey--which to date has lagged the developed and parts of the developing world in mobile broadband technology--will somehow be ahead of these two mobile technology powerhouses seem slim to non-existent. In addition, Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey and Avea have all been preparing for the expected launch of 4G in recent months. They are unlikely to react well to a cancellation of the auction that would also mean any investments they have already made could be wasted.

A further point is that every vendor and operator I have spoken to recently about 5G cannot stress enough that 4G is regarded as an extremely successful mobile technology. What's more, operators plan to keep milking the technology for years to come with developments such as LTE Advanced, voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) and more. Importantly, 5G is also expected to include elements of LTE as part of the LTE evolution approach towards defining what 5G will be.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Turkey's government would be taking a huge gamble by cancelling the 4G spectrum auctions.--Anne

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