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Major mobile carriers in Japan are rushing to build base stations for ultrafast 5G services but nationwide coverage is expected to take several more years.

Despite people’s high interest in 5G, the services are only available in limited areas of the country at present. Data communication speeds for 5G services are up to 100 times those for 4G services, allowing a two-hour movie to be downloaded in only seconds, compared to about five minutes for 4G services.

NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. launched their 5G services in March last year, followed by Rakuten Mobile Inc. half a year later. “Handsets for 5G services are selling well recently although there was a tough time with the spread of the novel coronavirus,” KDDI Executive Vice President Takashi Shoji said.

MM Research Institute Ltd. forecasts 5G smartphone shipments in Japan in fiscal 2020, which ends in March, at 8.33 million units, accounting for 28% of total smartphone shipments in the year.

The communications ministry has raised its target for the number of 5G base stations as of the end of fiscal 2023 by fourfold to 280,000. Also, it decided to allow carriers to use 4G base stations for 5G services from this winter, but people in the industry said that the network speed will remain the same because bandwidths will not change for such converted stations.

Radio waves for 5G services can reach limited areas, requiring numerous base stations to be built to make the services available widely.

Many people in the industry, including Jun Sawada, president of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., the parent of NTT Docomo, therefore believe that 5G services will become available nationwide around 2025.

Meanwhile, an industry official warned that stronger pressure from the government to reduce mobile phone fees could affect carriers’ 5G-related investment.

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