NTT Docomo launched pre-commercial 5G service in select areas of major cities in Japan, delivering on its commitment to provide trial coverage at stadiums for the Rugby World Cup, which starts today (20 September).

The pilot service in 11 locations, including Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, is designed to give customers a preview of the capabilities of the technology, Docomo said.

A total of 7,000 5G-compatiable devices will be available at the operator’s experience centres at stadiums and in some cities for visitors to try out. The devices from Sony, Samsung, LG and Sharp are not for sale.

The country’s largest mobile operator by subscribers said it won’t be offering 5G smartphones from Chinese vendor Huawei because of concerns about restricted access to Google services.

Rollout in 2020
Japan’s three major mobile operators – Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank – all aim to launch commercial 5G service in March or April 2020, in time to have their networks up and running for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The three, along with newcomer Rakuten Mobile, committed to investing a combined JPY1.6 trillion ($14.4 billion) to deploy the technology over the next five years.

SoftBank, which is using equipment from Ericsson and Nokia, plans to cover 60 per cent of the population by early 2023, after recently pushing forward the date by two years.

Docomo and KDDI also will likely move their 5G rollouts forward, Nikkei Asian Review wrote.

Earlier in the week, Docomo announced that together with its equipment suppliers Fujitsu, NEC and Nokia it achieved multi-vendor interoperability across 4G and 5G base station equipment compatible with the international standards of the Open Radio Access Network Alliance, an industry group working on more open and intelligent next-generation radio access networks.

The operator said it will expand 5G coverage by combining 5G networks with existing 4G networks using equipment from multiple vendors.

It plans to deploy about 10,000 base stations by June 2021, Japan Times reported.