2016 Rewind: The biggest telecoms stories of the year

Telecom Asia editors

Our third annual Rewind feature looks back at the telecoms news stories that dominated the headlines and captured our readers’ attention on telecomasia.net in 2016. From start to finish, many of this year’s most popular stories were centered on 5G, VoWiFi and VoLTE, as well as the Myanmar market and the ongoing restructuring and M&A, among others.

Asian cellcos prep for 5G

It was a busy year for the APAC mobile sector, as mobile operators across the region have been stepping up their efforts in 5G trials during the year of 2016, in preparation for the technology’s commercialization by 2020.

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In October, Nokia signed an agreement with Australia’s Optus to collaborate on 5G development, and revealed it is working with KT to deploy the world’s first 5G commercial trial network in 2017. Optus and Nokia plan to jointly conduct a 5G trial using Optus’ 3500-MHz spectrum, and will develop an early 5G prototype in the spectrum by 2017.

The announcement came a month after rival Telstra and Ericsson conducted Australia’s first live 5G trial in Melbourne using a combined 800MHz of spectrum, achieving aggregate speeds of more than 20Gbps in a real-world, outdoor environment. Telstra said the trial involved 10 times more spectrum than the operator currently uses with its 4G service. Ericsson’s 5G radio prototype equipment was used for the demo, which also achieved an indicative latency of at least half of that seen in current 4G networks.

In the same month, Softbank and its affiliate company, Wireless City Planning, officially kicked off its ‘5G Project’. As the first phase of the project, the two rolled out commercial services based on Massive MIMO technology from September 16.  Under the plan SoftBank, which aims to be one of the first to adopt 5G commercially, has deployed the technology across 100 base stations in 43 cities across Japan. Around 30-40% of the sites are in downtown areas of the Tokyo capital.

The previous month Ericsson and Singtel completed what they say is the first live demo of 5G prototype technology in Southeast Asia, achieving a peak throughput of 27.5Gbps. The demo used Ericsson’s 5G radio prototypes to showcase the capabilities offered by the new networking technology, which also included demonstrating a latency as low as 2ms. At the demonstration, the pair also showcased the world’s first end-to-end low latency live video streaming over 5G.

Elsewhere, SK Telecom teamed up with Deutsche Telekom and Ericsson for the world’s first transcontinental 5G trial in July.  In April, SKT and Samsung completed a field trial for its 5G system over 28-GHz millimeter-wave frequencies in an outdoor environment, following the formation of the new 5G Open Trial Specification Alliance with KT, Japan’s DoCoMo and US’s Verizon.

On the spectrum side, Australian telecoms regulator ACMA has proposed refarming spectrum in the 1.5-GHz and 3.6-GHz bands for mobile broadband, including potentially in future 5G networks. The United States, meanwhile, has become the first country in the world to allocate large amounts of spectrum for use by future 5G networks. In July the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to free up nearly 11 GHz worth of high-frequency airwaves above 24-GHz for 5G use.

Voice is sexy again

Voice isn’t dead, and made the headlines in 2016, thanks to the rise of packet-based voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) and voice over LTE (VoLTE) services and the increased penetration of compatible devices.

Singtel launched Singapore’s first commercial VoWiFi service in August, following the success of its HetNet trials in the island-state. The trials, conducted in collaboration with IDA Singapore (now known as IMDA), confirmed that voice calls and texts can be sent over Wi-Fi in areas which are challenging for mobile signals. Singtel’s announcement came a month after rival M1 launched what it claimed as the nation’s first public native HD VoWiFi trial using HetNet technology, and months after 3 HK’s launch of a premium VoWiFi service that supports the use of up to five devices, including smartwatches tablets and PCs, along with a smartphone connected to the same account.

Meanwhile Thai cellco AIS also announced its plans to offer VoWiFi as a complementary add-on for its 4G services. AIS is initially offering VoWiFi for selected iPhone models, and detailed plans to expand its WiFi hotspot network from 120,000 to 160,000 this year and to 200,000 by 2017.

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