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Major Japan mobile carriers accelerating moves to share 5G base stations

In this Feb. 9, 2019 file photo, a self-driving car is seen traveling on a street in Ichinomiya in the central Japan prefecture of Aichi during a test using a 5G mobile communications system. (Mainichi/Shuji Kawabe)

TOKYO -- Major Japanese mobile phone carriers are accelerating moves to share 5G mobile network base stations, industry sources said.

As 5G signals have a shorter range than the current 4G system, the next-generation network will require far more base stations. Therefore, major mobile carriers are aiming to set up joint base stations to reduce the time and cost needed to build out Japan's 5G network.

KDDI Corp., operator of the au mobile phone network, and SoftBank Corp. announced on July 3 that they will collaborate to establish 5G base stations. The arrangement will allow the two firms to use each other's cell towers and other equipment.

They will begin feasibility tests this autumn in three locations -- Asahikawa in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, Narita in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo, and Fukuyama in the western Japan prefecture of Hiroshima. They are also exploring the possibility of setting up a joint venture to manage their 5G network.

In a separate move, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) announced on July 4 that it will invest in JTOWER Inc., which has set up mobile base stations in shopping malls and other facilities and leases them to major carriers.

JTOWER intends to begin installing 5G cell towers outdoors beginning this fiscal year and lease them to NTT Docomo Inc., a member of the NTT group, and other major mobile firms. NTT will provide communications equipment technologies to JTOWER.

In addition to the immense cost involved in every mobile carrier building their own 5G network, it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure locations for new base stations in urban areas. This has encouraged mobile phone companies to share infrastructure.

"The time will come when companies will try to compete by diversifying their services," and share infrastructure to reduce costs, one industry insider said, reflecting a common view in the mobile sector.

(Japanese original by Akiko Kato, Business News Department)

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