Information current as of: 14 February 2020
This chapter was kindly submitted by Atsumi & Sakai.
What is the state of 5G deployment in your jurisdiction?
From 2017 to 2019, comprehensive 5G technology verification tests were carried out. These included testing of 5G technology use anticipated in real industries such as remote control of construction machinery, smart agriculture, arrayed vehicles mobility, and telemedicine.
In April 2019, spectrum bands were licensed to the 4 mobile telecommunication service providers who had applied for approvals of base stations establishment plans for 5G introduction.
In 2019, experimental 5G services were launched, including services for audience experience at international sports events held in Japan such as the Rugby World Cup 2019.
In around March 2020, commercial 5G services will be launched. The combined total of the 4 mobile telecommunication service providers’ business plans indicates that approximately 98% of 10km² meshes of land in Japan are expected to have 5G base stations by 2024.
Local 5G is a 5G system which various local parties, such as companies or local governments, can establish on a spot basis, for example in their own buildings or yards to individually meet needs of local communities or businesses. In December 2019, implementation of Local 5G regulations began, and the government has started accepting licence applications for certain spectrum ahead of other spectra.
In locations where the progress of area-wide deployment by mobile telecommunication service providers is slow, Local 5G can be introduced beforehand, with flexibility of performance settings to fit various purposes of use. Local 5G is less affected by telecommunication system failure or disasters in other locations.
Various Local 5G development tests to meet local communities’ needs in different environments (cities, rural areas, indoors, etc) with combinations of different spectra will be carried out in 2020 and beyond.
Which telcos and communications players are launching 5G services?
In addition to the existing 3 carriers (NTT DOCOMO, SoftBank and KDDI/Okinawa Cellular), Rakuten Mobile will enter the market. Also, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (the “MIC”) has published a guidance for creating a regulatory environment for MVNOs entering the market, with the anticipation of such players’ market entries.
Are there any public tenders for spectrum licenses?
Whilst there are no public tenders in the sense that applicants compete only for higher offer price, the licence application review rules amended in 2019 include an amount of money to be paid by an applicant as one of factors for the government’s review of applications.
What are the conditions?
Under the Radio Act of Japan, the MIC grants a licence to establish and operate base stations exclusively for a certain spectrum band for a certain period (the general rule is 5 years) once the authority has reviewed and approves the “base stations establishment plan” (the “Plan”) submitted by the applicant.
Pursuant to the rules, the MIC granted 5G spectrum licences to the 4 mobile telecommunication service providers in July 2019. In this process:
- the following minimum standards set by the MIC must be included as part of the Plans:
- the nationwide area coverage of 5G infrastructure will be 50% or more and services will be available in all of the 47 prefectures of Japan within 2 years;
- facility safety and reliability maintenance plans have been established;
- there is a funding plan to cover necessary costs and a plan of opening their network to MVNOs; and
- it is ensured that their business will not be assigned to other business operators.
- when multiple applicants competed for the same spectrum band, the MIC reviewed, in their Plans, which applicant:
- plans a higher area coverage of 5G infrastructure and establishment of more base stations;
- has the better facility safety and reliability maintenance plans;
- has the better plan to open their network to MVNOs;
- has the better plan of utilising 5G technologies for various industries; and
- would reduce the greater number of areas and population with no access to the network.
Amendments to the Radio Act came into force in October 2019, under which a Plan must also include a statement of an amount of money the licence applicant will pay to the government. The applicant shall determine such amount by considering the economic value of the spectrum band, and the MIC will consider the amount as an additional factor in reviewing the licence application.
The amended law also clarified that the MIC can review applicants’ plans of utilising existing 4G facilities for 5G networks.
What has the government said regarding spectrum licenses for commercial use?
There are no additional requirements or restrictions attached to a licence for commercial use as compared to non-commercial use. However, it should be noted that a licensee must comply with the following on-going obligations:
- to report to the government the development status of the approved Plan on a quarterly basis and at any time when required by the government (such report will be reviewed and published by the government);
- not to sell or assign their business to other business operators;
- to implement measures to prevent interference with other base stations operated by other licensees;
- (for licensees of the 3.7GHz and 28GHz bands) to confirm with other licensees in advance matters regarding TDD (time division duplex) such as transmission time and length in any 10 millisecond period;
- (for licensees of the 3.7GHz band) to take measures to notify the public that their radio waves may hinder operations of space telecommunication facilities and to open contact for enquiries from such operators in accordance with other licensees; and
- to accept requests from MVNOs using 4,600MHz - 4,800MHz or 28.2GHz - 29.1GHz bands for discussions to enter into agreements for promoting utilisation of the base stations.
Are the rules for 5G already drafted, and if so, what do they say?
Please refer to the 2019 amendments to the Radio Act mentioned above, which are for 5G spectrum licensing. The amendments have also allowed experimental Wi-Fi or other services (such as smart speakers or AR glasses) for a maximum of 180 days without a certificate of satisfaction of Japanese standards of technologies on radio equipment, provided that the service provider has met an equivalent international standard.
Another regulatory amendment which has been implemented is the establishment of telecommunication facility technology standards and amended spectrum licensing rules for Local 5G.
What are or would be the rules for granting competitors access to the new 5G networks, once they are deployed?
As sharing spectrum is necessary for 5G, Dynamic Spectrum Sharing System (“DSSS”), which is a system for sharing spectrum with flexibility on location and timing, has been developed. The MIC will submit a bill of amendment to the Radio Act to the 2020 Ordinary Diet (i.e. Japanese parliament), under which a designated body will control and operate the DSSS.
In December 2019 the MIC issued a request for the mobile telecommunication carriers to open their 5G networks to MVNOs for fair competition, which includes the following requests:
- to open their own 5G networks to MVNOs at the same time as the launch of their own 5G services;
- to promptly provide MVNOs with information necessary for 5G services (such as timing of opening the network, service areas, telecommunication speed, connection fees, connection spots, technological details for connection, etc.); and
- to give MVNOs enough time for discussions, facility upgrade, network tests or other actions required for the MVNOs.