Russia will lead the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and launch 5G in 2020 with a goal of covering 80 percent of the country’s population by 2025. According to a study from the GSMA, other countries in the CIS region including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Uzbekistan will likely follow Russia and launch 5G by 2025.
The GSMA report touted the 5G launches by Russia and the countries in the CIS as having the potential to transform industries. However, it noted that they will need a supportive regulatory framework that includes available, and affordable, 5G spectrum.
Interestingly, the CIS region is an area of high mobile penetration, behind only Europe and North America. The GSMA estimates that about 80 percent of the population, or 232 million people, have mobile phones. Russia accounted for more than half of those subscribers and has a penetration rate of 89 percent.
Meanwhile, Russia does have a lot of headroom to grow its 4G customer base. All three main Russian operators have launched LTE-Advanced, which provides a stepping stone to 5G. At the end of 2017, however, only 16 percent of connections were on 4G.
The GSMA predicts that in 2025 about 12 percent of mobile connections will be 5G.
Early 5G Trials
Russian operator MTS Group was an early tester of 5G networking. Back in 2016 the operator announced it was working with Nokia and Ericsson on developing a 5G test network in time for the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament in Russian. During that 5G trial, MTS demonstrated several different 5G use cases including high-definition video calls, ultra-low latency video games, and high-definition video streaming.
Rostelecom also conducted 5G trials with Ericsson in St. Petersberg and did a pilot with Nokia in Skolkovo.
But so far only two Russian operators— MegaFon and Rostelecom — have been awarded spectrum for 5G trials from the government. These licenses are specifically for compatibility tests with other services. MTS and Beeline were denied their requests spectrum license requests.