• Kyodo, Staff Report, Bloomberg

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Wireless carrier SoftBank Corp. said Thursday it will launch 5G services on March 27, becoming Japan’s first major mobile carrier to release its plans for the superfast next-generation telecommunications service.

SoftBank said it plans to charge an additional ¥1,000 ($9) per month for 5G but will exempt existing and new customers for two years under a sales campaign that will run through August.

The nation’s third-largest mobile phone carrier by number of subscribers said 5G services would be available in Tokyo, Osaka, Chiba, Aichi, Hiroshima, Ishikawa and Fukuoka prefectures from March 31 and that it eventually aims to install over 10,000 base stations by the end of March 2023.

Not surprisingly, customers will be required to buy new 5G-capable handsets.

SoftBank will launch sales of two types on March 27 and two more later this year.

Sharp Corp. and Sony Corp. recently unveiled their first 5G smartphone models.

SoftBank said it will provide 5G smartphones from four makers: Sharp, China’s ZTE Corp. and Oppo Co., and South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc.

Rivals NTT Docomo Inc. and KDDI Corp. are expected to reveal their own 5G plans soon.

While the launch of 5G in Japan will ramp up domestic competition, Rakuten Inc.’s foray into the market as the nation’s fourth big carrier will stir things up further.

Earlier this week, Rakuten announced it would undercut its rivals with a 4G service on April 8 that only costs ¥2,980 a month for unlimited data usage.

The plan is about half the price charged by the top three mobile phone carriers, but Rakuten’s coverage is limited by comparison. Rakuten also said the first year of its 4G service would be free for the first 3 million subscribers.

SoftBank’s 4G plan costs ¥6,500 a month for up to 50GB of data, with a ¥1,000 discount for the first year. SoftBank, however, has recently lowered prices — ostensibly to head off Rakuten’s aggressive charge — and is laying the groundwork for getting customers to shift to 5G without any added financial catches.

Rakuten will reportedly launch a 5G network in June.

With 5G technology, people are expected to be able to send and receive data about 100 times faster than before, allowing smartphone users, for example, to download a two-hour movie in just a few seconds.

Such services are already being used in the United States, South Korea, China and parts of Europe.

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