Alcatel-Lucent's Combes indicates strong pressure to speed up 5G development

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) CEO Michel Combes said that there is strong pressure in the industry to have "5G" network products ready as soon as possible.

Even though most industry experts do not expect widespread commercial deployments of the next-generation network technology until 2020, Combes indicated there is strong demand to speed up the timeline. "We start to think there might be some pilots as early as 2018," Combes told Re/code in an interview. The standards for 5G networks have not been written yet.

There are major national considerations at play in the race to deploy 5G networks, as countries and their operators aim to showcase their technological prowess on the world stage. For example, South Korea hopes to launch a 5G trial network for the Winter Olympic Games that will be held in PyeongChang in 2018, while Japan intends to launch a 5G trial network for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo. 

Other operators and vendors are also planning trials in the 2018 timeframe. The operator du last month predicted the first trials of 5G technology could begin in 2018 as part of the United Arab Emirates-based carrier's goal of commercializing the technology starting in 2020.

In January SK Telecom signed a memorandum of understanding with Nokia (NYSE:NOK) to conduct joint research and development on 5G with the ultimate goal of demonstrating the technology in 2018 and commercially launching it in 2020. And last year Huawei inked a similar agreement with MegaFon in Russia, with plans to demonstrate 5G in a trial during the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia are going to continue developing 5G technology as they pursue their $17.3 billion (€15.6 billion) merger, which is speeding along toward completion faster than Combes expected. Combes said the deal is necessary to have the resources and scale to pursue 5G research and development. On Friday regulators at the European Commission approved the transaction.

"I have expectations we could close it earlier than later," Combes told Re/code. "Up till now we have had a very smooth journey." The deal has already been approved by regulators in the U.S.

Combes noted that more than 8,000 of Alcatel-Lucent's 55,000 employees are in the U.S. and are located at offices in Silicon Valley, Chicago and Texas, as well as at the former Bell Labs facilities in Murray Hill, N.J. The company also gets about 40 percent of its revenue in the U.S. and has deals with all of the major carriers.  "For Alcatel-Lucent, it's a very important market," Combes said.

For more:
- see this Re/code article

Related articles:
Nokia gets EU green light for Alcatel-Lucent acquisition
Nokia CEO: ALU acquisition will make it 'very strong' in North America
Alcatel-Lucent leads EC-funded industry research into sub-6 GHz 5G air interface
du aims to pilot 5G services from 2018, launch commercial services in 2020
Huawei targets 2018 World Cup in Russia for 5G trial
SK Telecom teams with Nokia on 5G demo slated for 2018

Correction, July 28, 2015: This article incorrectly stated that Alcatel-Lucent gets 14 percent of its revenue in the U.S. It is actually 40 percent.