Myanmar will be ready to deploy 5G technology in 2-3 years, U Soe Thein of the Communications and Information Technology Ministry told the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, last month.
The new technology has the potential to be 20 times faster than 4G, which means Myanmar people may soon be able to download more content in less time. 5G has a peak speed of 20 gigabytes per second; while 4G’s top speed is only 1GBps.
Use of 5G technology is expected to facilitate the growth of fixed wireless access and the internet of things, replacing mobile broadband in the country.
The new technology also offers internet speeds of 100 Mbps, fixed wireless access, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and other technologies. It can especially help businesses, tech experts said.
However, it has many shortcomings, such as no handsets, insufficient spectrum and other technology requirements that mean it might be two or three years before it becomes available, U Soe Thein said.
The groundwork for 5G technology is being laid under the Myanmar National Broadband White Paper 2019 and Spectrum Roadmap 2019.
If successful, Myanmar will trail most other countries in launching 5G technology by only a couple of years. Malaysia and Indonesia signed agreements with Huawei Co. in February to carry out 5G data infrastructure and tests, and Singapore, which is a regional leader in the technology, said in July that Singapore Telecommunications has teamed up with Ericsson to test 5G networks.
It is already being used in South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Australia, Japan and China. This week, Germany took its first steps toward building a next-generation mobile network, beginning its 5G bandwidth spectrum auctions on Tuesday.
But what will Myanmar need to provide 5G to the public?
To use 5G locally, in addition to spectrum, operators must be able to provide services at affordable prices, Huawei Myanmar CEO Zhang Liman said during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Ensuring sufficient network coverage is necessary. Advancement in technology from 2G and 3G was gradual, with 4G only starting to be used in Myanmar in 2018.
It is also necessary for the government to specify required channels and speed. Laws and regulations must be adopted to set up the necessary number of 5G base stations, because 5G uses a higher frequency band and requires at least 10 times more base stations than 4G, Zhang said.
Huawei, which started research on 5G in 2009, is willing to cooperate with Myanmar and any organisation on the use of 5G. “A 5G proposal was submitted after studying major issues in upgrading Myanmar’s network. Huawei is willing to cooperate with partners to usher in the 5G era,” Fang Liangzhou, vice president of Huawei Network Energy Product Line, told an industry forum on 5G in Barcelona.
Huawei has invested up to US$ 2 billion in 5G research, owns more than 2500 patents on 5G technology, and has signed more than 30 commercial agreements. Moreover, it is able to equip more than 40,000 5G base stations, according to the company.
While more energy efficient, 5G needs much more operating space than 4G, according to Huawei.
Other telecommunications operators in Myanmar are also eyeing opportunities in 5G. Telenor of Norway has tested 5G technology in Scandinavia, will continue improving 5G, and officially introduce it in 2020, said Sigve Brekke, Telenor president and CEO.
“5G is more than a new generation mobile network. It also has the ability to develop other sectors,” he said.
Meanwhile, local operators will continue to provide 4G service because there are many challenges in offering 5G.
U Zaw Min Oo, Mytel’s CEO for external relations, said, “The main problem about 5G is the handset. We can use 5G if everything is ready. We had to overcome many obstacles to offer 4G, and it is still not being used throughout the country. I think 5G would take longer for us.”
Ooredoo, working with Nokia, has taken the first step by opening a 5G communications centre.
Setting up local 5G service requires the government to grant frequencies to operators at a fair price and government support, said U Tint Naing Tun, head of corporate communications for Ooredoo Myanmar.
We will need to upgrade our facilities for 5G requirements, and will also need accessories, services and 5G supported handsets, he said.