Never mind, China and South Korea. Finnish operator Elisa is claiming to be the first operator in the world to begin commercial use of a 5G network—and it’s not the only one.
The first person to use the 5G network was Anne Berner, minister of Transport and Communications, who made a video call from Tampere, Finland, to Kadri Simson, minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, who was in Tallinn, Estonia, according to Elisa.
Elisa said that together with Huawei, it used the first commercial 5G terminal devices in the world to make the call. In an email, Eetu Prieur, Elisa’s head of mobile technology, described the devices as wireless 5G routers.
At the moment, the 5G network covers the city center in Tampere and Tallin, according to Prieur. The operator is offering two subscription alternatives: unlimited data with unlimited voice for €49.90/month (about $57 U.S.) and unlimited data (voice not included) for €44.90/month (about $52 U.S.)
Currently, they’re using 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum. The Ministry of Communications is preparing to allocate the first 5G licenses to the 3,400–3,800 MHz frequency band this fall.
Elisa said its aim is to make Finland the leading nation as a developer of 5G mobile services.
This isn’t the first time Elisa has staked a big first in wireless. The first GSM telephone call in the world was made using Elisa’s network.
Of course, this is the land of many “firsts” when it comes to new wireless generations and 5G is generating its fair share. Last month, Qatar-based Ooredoo declared it was the first operator in the world to launch a live 5G network on the 3.5 GHz spectrum band.
“Ooredoo’s 5G network is the first commercially available 5G network in the world and is an important technological breakthrough for the telecommunications industry worldwide,” the company said in a press release.
Not to be outdone, each of the four nationwide operators in the U.S. have declared plans to be first with 5G in one way or another. Verizon expects to be the first to launch a fixed access wireless service this year.
AT&T is aiming to be the first U.S. carrier to launch standards-based, mobile 5G services to customers this year. T-Mobile says it will launch a real 5G nationwide network in 2019, and Sprint also set a goal of providing the first nationwide mobile 5G network. Of course, Sprint’s long-term plans of sustainability rely on its merger with T-Mobile.
CTIA has pointed to the results of a study by Analysys Mason showing China with a slight lead in 5G readiness, with South Korea and the U.S. close behind, saying the U.S. needs to release more mid-band spectrum and make zoning and siting of 5G equipment a priority.
The U.S. and Asia haven’t always been the ones to beat with new generations of wireless technologies. Back in 2004, the Isle of Man, located in the British Isles, announced that mmO2 would deploy Europe's first 3G mobile data network on the Isle of Man. That network incorporated HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) technology and IMS (Internet Protocol Multimedia services) offered through mmO2's subsidiary, Manx Telecom.