Until now, European and Asian mobile carriers have focused most of their 5G network development resources on so-called sub-6GHz radio frequencies — similar to what’s been used by 4G networks. But that’s about to change, thanks to Russian carriers and Qualcomm, which today announced a collaboration on Europe’s first millimeter wave 5G network, with plans for a Moscow launch this fall.
The Russian network will, similar to Verizon’s already launched 5G millimeter wave network in the United States, be centered on the 28GHz band, with 1.5GHz of spectrum on each side — 26.5GHz to 29.5GHz. While Russia isn’t planning a full commercial 5G launch just yet, the millimeter wave network is designed to help Moscovites test everything from consumer fixed broadband and mobile 5G services to business-specific offerings. Qualcomm expects that piloting VR, AR, and other 5G-powered digital services will be particularly important in the launch.
Moscow’s government is coordinating the “5G pilot zones” initiative with plans to expand the network “over the next few years” to major streets, railway stations, airports, business centers, stadiums, and even congress halls. “Deploying 5G networks on the n257 mmWave band will allow operators to achieve this goal in a very efficient way,” said Qualcomm business development VP Yulia Klebanova. Moscow IT chief Eduard Lysenko added that millimeter wave spectrum access was “resolved at state level” to accelerate a high-bandwidth 5G rollout.
Millimeter wave cellular radios offer major advantages over alternatives, including the promise of extra-wide data lanes for high bandwidth, and super-fast responsiveness between devices and base stations, also known as low latency. But the small cell towers that carry signals only communicate over very short distances — around 1 kilometer — and installation in major cities requires heavy governmental involvement, even in the United States.
The European Union has set aside the “n258” band for 5G service, including frequencies ranging from 24.25GHz to 27.5GHz, partially overlapping the n257 band selected by Russia. At some point, these similar frequencies should enable handsets to roam between the countries’ millimeter wave networks.
Qualcomm has established itself as the leader in developing and promoting millimeter wave hardware for 5G devices, as rival 5G modem makers have focused on sub-6GHz chips and antennas. While Chinese handset and networking gear provider Huawei would otherwise be a natural rival in a country as large and independent of Western influence as Russia, Qualcomm’s lead in millimeter wave engineering currently gives it an edge in supplying the particularly high-bandwidth, low-latency solutions to consumers and carriers.