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Japanese firms lag in launch of 5G services amid global scramble

From left, SoftBank Corp. President Ken Miyauchi, Rakuten Inc. President Hiroshi Mikitani, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Masatoshi Ishida, NTT Docomo Inc. President Kazuhiro Yoshizawa, KDDI Corp. President Makoto Takahashi, and Okinawa Cellular Telephone Co. President Hideo Yuasa pose with 5G band allotment certificates in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on April 10, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichi Yamashita)

TOKYO -- Telecommunications giants across the globe are scrambling to launch ultrafast 5G services and outpace competitors to dominate the market. In Japan, however, carriers continue to lag about a year behind the bandwagon.

U.S. telecoms giant Verizon Communications Inc. announced its launch of 5G services on April 3, while three major South Korean carriers, including SK Telecom Co., moved up their schedules to launch their own 5G services the same day. It is expected to take more time and investment before these services are available over a wider sphere.

In addition to ultrafast data rates, 5G mobile communications technology features reduced latency and massive device connectivity. Communication speeds range from several dozen to around 100 times faster than 4G technology.

Countries have been rushing to allocate frequency bands for 5G services to mobile carriers, regretting having conceded to the United States in the past in global competition over 4G services. The U.S. previously took the world by storm under the leadership of "platformer" giants such as Facebook and Google, as well as Apple with its iPhone craze.

In the preceding 3G era, Japan led the world by launching mobile phone internet connections, but lagged behind in music streaming and social networking services in the subsequent 4G age.

China, home to tech giant Huawei Technologies Co., is struggling for 5G supremacy against the United States. Chinese telecommunications firms have enjoyed strong state backing in developing cutting-edge technologies. Alarmed by this, the U.S. government is stepping up its pressure on other countries to exclude Huawei from their markets. A senior official with a Japanese telecommunications company, however, noted, "China has excellent services, such as cashless payment and ride sharing, which can provide a path to the next generation."

In Japan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications allocated 5G frequency bands to NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp., SoftBank Corp. and Rakuten Inc. on April 10, but the full-scale launch of 5G services is not expected to come until next year.

5G is also expected to be applied in the automobile and manufacturing industries, where Japan excels the world.

Hideaki Yokota of MM Research Institute said, "Full-scale 5G services will hit the world in the future. I believe Japan will be able to boost its presence in the 5G era by belting out practical services speedily."

(Japanese original by Arimasa Mori, Business News Department)

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