Swisscom sets the pace for European 5G

Both in 4G and now 5G, European operators have been more hesitant than their US and east Asian counterparts about putting firm deadlines around deployments. Big picture vision statements and intensive R&D, yes, but perhaps Europe’s MNOs are still feeling the after-effects of the 3G over-excitement. Swisscom, however, has been departing from its image as archetypal incumbent in recent years and setting out grand plans for LTE and now for 5G.

The Swiss telco has officially stated that it will launch a commercial 5G network in 2020 as the culmination of a five-year, three-stage plan to meet burgeoning demand for mobile data.

This is not some big bang transition – the operator said in a statement that it will continue to enhance and fine-tune its new LTE-Advanced network for the next five years and beyond, to improve capacity and data rates, and will then start to augment that with future 5G technologies. Many of the activities to improve its 4G infrastructure will feed into 5G too, it anticipates, especially with changes such as densification and virtualization.

So far, the MNO has deployed LTE-Advanced – primarily carrier aggregation – in 16 cities to boost speeds, and in one city, Fribourg, it has a pilot network delivering peak speeds of 450Mbps downlink.

That 450Mbps network, combined with increasingly dense roll-out, will be the highlights of the second stage of its plan. It plans to deploy microcells in urban areas, installing them in existing cable conduits – it has been testing this technology in Berne and if further trials prove successful, it hopes for commercial roll-out next year.

The third stage in the LTE enhancement program will be to switch off GSM from the end of 2020 to free up spectrum. In its announcement, Heinz Herren, head of IT, networks and innovation, said that GSM now carriers only 0.5% of data traffic but takes up to 30% of antenna capacity. In total, Swisscom’s mobile network supports almost 290,000GB of data per day and the figure is doubling each year.

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