Japan's telecom regulator, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), has approved the plans by four anointed LTE carriers to invest 1.134 trillion yen ($11.8 billion) in network rollouts.
It has also allocated new bands of 1.5-GHz spectrum to NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, and SoftBank Mobile, and 1.7-GHz spectrum to eMobile.
The four operators say they expect a combined 36 million LTE subs by the end of March 2015.
'I don't think it will be easy for carriers to move so many subscribers to LTE services as quickly as their plans suggest,' said Michito Kimura, senior analyst at IDC Japan. 'I think it will take at least six or seven years.'
A few years off
Nearly 50% of the planned capex will be borne by KDDI and its subsidiary Okinawa Cellular, which plan to have over 96% population coverage with an LTE (10-MHz, 2 x 2 MIMO) network of almost 30,000 base stations by March 2015.
KDDI will use 800 MHz and a 10-MHz band of 1.5-GHz spectrum, with a planned service launch in December 2012. KDDI's LTE/SAE core network will be supplied by Hitachi (with Nortel) and overlay KDDI's existing CDMA network featuring seamless interoperability with that network.
The first Japanese carrier - and one of the first in the world - to offer LTE services will be incumbent NTT DoCoMo, which will sell LTE-based data cards from December 2010.
It plans to spend 340 billion yen to achieve 51% population coverage by the end of fiscal 2014.
Initially DoCoMo's LTE (15-MHz, 2 x 2 MIMO) network will use its 2-GHz spectrum and there will be just over 20,000 base stations. But in late 2012 it will also start using its 15 MHz of 1.5-GHz spectrum although the key metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka of that spectrum will still be used by digital MCA until the end of March 2014.
DoCoMo expects to spend 300-400 billion yen rolling out LTE up until the end of fiscal 2014 when it plans to have nearly 18 million LTE subs.
Unlike KDDI and NTT DoCoMo, Softbank Mobile has not invested heavily in LTE R&D and, in fact, has appeared to be hesitating about moving quickly to LTE because of the high costs in areas like first generation chip procurement.
However, the company will initially focus on improving its data services and is rushing to rollout its first HSPA services early next year and then DC-HSDPA services. LTE services (2-GHz) are planned possibly from late 2011 but dates are not yet fixed. SoftBank Mobile's plans call for a five-year 3.9G plus HSPA capex of 330 billion yen.
eMobile, the smallest carrier, with just 1.5 million subs - mostly using high-speed data services - will be first off the block with a 1.7-GHz HSPA+ network launching this August, offering downlink speeds of over 40 Mbps (its current 3.5G HSPA service offers 7.2 Mbps). In September next year the company plans a DC-HSDPA service followed by LTE (5-MHz, 2 x 2 MIMO) in 2012.