Tech

Is 5G in Russia finally taking off?

Russia is likely the next major country in line to launch its 5G network. Is 2022 the year when the technology finally takes off in the world's largest country?
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5G is growing worldwide

A growing list of countries have already set up commercial 5G networks. 72 countries have already launched 5G services, and more than 460 operators from 137 countries are investing in pilot developments and conducting test runs. Russia is the next country in line seeking to add 5G to its arsenal of mobile service, but it is lagging behind other countries that have already reached a much deeper level of 5G penetration.

For example, the penetration of 5G services in China has reached 30% of the total population size. Earlier last month, we wrote about China ramping up its 5G investments in 2022. The country is followed by South Korea and the United States. Europe is also very active. At the end of the day, 5G is set to become a principal issue on the geopolitical landscape due to its recent politicized nature.

Before we take a look at the 5G situation in the world’s largest country, we need to understand an important question:

Why do we need 5G?

The crux of the issue is that 5G is much faster than 4G. 5G (“5th Generation”) is the “fifth generation” cellular standard defined by the 3GPP consortium. The peculiarity of 5G technology is the ability to work in millimeter wavelength range (ultra-high frequency spectrum in the range from 24 GHz to 100 GHz). This means that data can be transmitted much faster than is currently possible. In Russia just last year, the speed of mobile Internet was 21.7 Mbps. Compared to the previous year, it decreased by 3 MB. Home Internet is, undoubtedly, faster.

According to Speedtest data as of January 2022, the average download speed in Russia is 69.8 Mbps. That’s why many people pay separately for home Internet and separately for mobile. But 5G promises greater speed – from 1 gigabyte per second. There is also no need to pay separately for home Internet. For the consumer, this means that a movie can be downloaded in less than a second, not a few seconds. But consumers do not need such speed; 4G is enough for movies and games. 5G, however, is needed to develop the Internet of Things.

In the long term, the impact of 5G on the business world will become more and more significant. Chip, modem and phone manufacturers are already actively preparing for the inevitable transformation. Other industries, such as automotive, banking, and agriculture, will see a significant impact from the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT). Everything from ATMs to machine tools to irrigation equipment will eventually be able to become part of one vast network of smart products. Most things will be connected in one way or another. This will lead to global automation of various technological processes and reduce operating costs.

Photo credit: Jeremy Bazanger

It is precisely 5G that would unite these devices. Since the possibilities of the 5G network are truly enormous, its emergence will definitely lead to a sharp increase in the number of smart devices and the evolution of existing ones. In other words, the potential of the new communications standard will help connect anything that can be connected to the network, from home appliances to vehicles. Some experts argue that the number of simultaneous connections could be as high as 50 to 100 billion devices.

Does Russia currently have 5G?

There are no commercially widespread 5G networks. The technology is being tested in limited pilot zones, mainly in large cities – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and smaller cities. This characterizes the stage of 5G development in Russia as preparatory and, thus, the country would be classified as “5G ready”. While these commercially available 5G networks may be absent for the average customer, the infrastructure being laid out is gaining ground.

The first network pilot zone was launched by the operator MTS, but only selected users will be able to connect to it, and the network itself operates only in Moscow. It is not yet possible to cover the entire city. It should also be noted that the network itself is deployed at a frequency of 4.4-5 GHz (frequency range n79), which does not support all of the existing 5G-smartphones. Recall that the international frequency band for 5G is 3.4-3.8 GHz, but in Russia it is occupied by satellite communications and law enforcement agencies.

This is despite the fact that in Russia, the topic of 5G has long been considered one of the government’s priorities under the national program “Digital Economy. The development of which is already threatened by Western sanctions and the withdrawal of telecom equipment manufacturers from the market. With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine currently impacting Russia in this area, experts believe that 5G development in the country will slow down, albeit with Western agencies and equipment. Homegrown manufacturers and providers may seek to capitalize on these new developments or with an influx from China.

When can the first commercial 5G network be expected in Russia?

The official government-planned launch is currently set for 2024. In February 2022, the Ministry of Economic Development published a white paper whereby they summarized high-tech development in Russia and abroad. It concluded that Russia is three to five years behind the world leaders in terms of 5G development.

According to TASS, “Countries that have already begun to implement 5G have a significant advantage. Taking into account the delayed launch of 5G in Russia, the gap formed by this time can reach critical values both in terms of the level of development of infrastructure of 5G networks and the degree of readiness of services on their basis”, – the document says. At that the Ministry notes that “a number of domestic solutions for the deployment of 5G can be considered as successful.

5G development in the country can therefore be regarded as lagging behind, but as competing powers on the geopolitical arena, namely the United States and China gain ground in this year, Russia will seek to capitalize on its existing resources and may attempt to spearhead this process earlier than 2024. With recent developments from the operator, MTS, gaining ground, it can be seen as a major first step in 5G taking off in the country.

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