China, South Korea commit to 5G leadership, while Japan and U.S. rely on private efforts

The governments of China and South Korea are being particularly aggressive in pursuing 5G development efforts, while Japan is taking an approach akin to that of the United States by relying more upon private companies to invest in the next-generation technologies.


China and South Korea have set up national research and development programs that rival similar efforts being undertaken within the European Union. Most supporters of 5G are aiming for commercial deployments in the 2020 time frame.

In China, three ministries--the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)  and Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)--set up an IMT-2020 (5G) Promotion Group in February 2013 to coordinate all 5G activities in Chinese industry and academia.

Meanwhile, South Korea has established a 5G Forum, which is similar to the EU's 5G PPP (public-private partnership), Guang Yang, senior analyst of wireless operator strategies at Strategy Analytics told FierceWirelessTech via email. South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning announced in January that it was committing $1.5 billion to its "5G Creative Mobile Strategy."

Japan's government is less aggressive than the EU, China and South Korea in setting national 5G R&D initiatives, but Japanese companies are nonetheless quite active, Yang said. That approach is similar to the strategy in the United States, where academic instituions and enterprises are taking up the 5G mantle.

Last month Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo announced plans to conduct "experimental trials" of emerging 5G technologies together with six vendors: Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), Fujitsu, NEC, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Samsung. In addition, private enterprises are taking the lead in the "2020 and Beyond AdHoc" group established by Japan's Association of Radio Industries and Businesses (ARIB).

The opportunity to spotlight 5G at upcoming Olympic Games is helping drive developments in South Korea as well as Japan, Yang said. South Korea hopes to launch a 5G trial network for the Winter Olympic Games in 2018 that will be held in PyeongChang, while Japan intends to launch a 5G trial network for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo. 

"Trials and early deployments will give the country and relevant companies better positions in 5G competition. But it is still too early to say who would be best positioned in 5G development," Yang noted.

He said various entities are scrambling to accumulate essential intellectual property rights (IPRs) for 5G technologies, "but the requirements and main build[ing] blocks of 5G have not been defined yet. So it is difficult to predict the distribution of key IPRs now."

According to Yang, current leaders in LTE deployment--namely the United States, Japan and South Korea--will likely deploy 5G before the EU and China. "European and Chinese operators need to earn back their 4G investments before they start launching 5G," Yang said. "On this point, the U.S., Japan and Korea should have better positions than [the] EU and China, even though [the] EU and China are quite active on 5G research currently," he added.

Though the United States does not have an official, government-sanctioned 5G development effort, academics and private enterprises are nonetheless deeply involved in 5G-related research. For example, the NYU Wireless program, launched in August 2012 by New York University's Polytechnic School of Engineering, is working on millimeter-wave technologies and other research deemed crucial to 5G.

5G is yet to be defined. However, basic guidelines for this next-generation technology includes the ability to deliver much higher data rates in dense urban environments to a growing variety of devices, satisfy demand for Internet of Things connectivity on a massive scale and provide real-time communications with vastly reduced latency. Of course, all of this must be provided affordably and sustainably.

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