Hot on the heels of recent launches in South Korea and the United States, Swisscom, in the small, landlocked country of Switzerland, is angling to become Europe’s first provider of 5G services in the 3.5 GHz band that work on actual 5G smartphones.
The carrier said on Wednesday that it aims to complete the nationwide expansion of its 5G New Radio (NR) Non-Standalone (NSA) network with 90% population coverage by the end of 2019, but it will start selling its first 5G smartphone and subscriptions next month. It appears that 100 sites in more than 50 cities and villages will be activated initially once the Federal Office of Communications grants the license — which is expected to be imminent. Switzerland completed its 5G-enabling spectrum auction in February, awarding airwaves in the 700 MHz, 1400 MHz, and 3.5 GHz bands to Swisscom and rivals Sunrise and Salt.
Swisscom aims to launch its 5G services with the Oppo Reno 5G device based on the Qualcomm X50 5G-ready modem, and is also lining up 5G smartphones from Huawei for the third quarter, LG Electronics in May, and Samsung Electronics in July. Swisscom inOne subscriptions have also now been updated in readiness for the new 5G offering.
The carrier has been working with Ericsson on the roll out of 5G service after selecting the Sweden-based vendor for “Gigabit LTE” and 5G in November 2017. It’s also implementing Ericsson’s radio access solutions, including small cells, and core solutions that include full stack NFVI, virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC), and virtualized IP multimedia subsystem (IMS).
The two companies have already demonstrated applications based on 5G network slicing and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), and in September 2018 completed a 5G non-standalone (NSA) data call on the 3.5 GHz band in Burgdorf, Switzerland. Furthermore, Ericsson is said to be providing its dynamic spectrum sharing technology that allows 4G and 5G services to be supported on the same frequency, to enable Swisscom to quickly roll out 5G coverage. The carrier indicated that it is also using existing 2G-4G frequencies in the 1.8 GHz, 2.1 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands for its 5G rollout.
Swisscom had previously indicated it would launch 5G in 2020, but has clearly upped its game in recent months – perhaps galvanized by the spectrum auction and rivals Salt Mobile, which is targeting a 5G launch in the third quarter of 2019, and Sunrise, which trumpeted the availability of its own 5G network in 150 locations in early April. The latter operator is currently providing the Sunrise Internet Box 5G for fixed wireless access services, initially for users it describes as “Sunrise 5G pioneers”. However, it has not yet unveiled plans for the introduction of 5G smartphones and subscriptions.
Sunrise also pointed out that 5G network expansion measures will have to observe Switzerland’s strict Ordinance on Protection against Non-Ionising Radiation (NISV), which specifies thresholds for the radiation emitted by stationary installations such as high-voltage electricity lines, cellular base stations and radio transmitters. The carrier also noted that millimeter wave (mm-wave) spectrum above 26 GHz is not currently being used for 5G, unlike in other countries. The country is instead relying on frequencies that have already been deployed for other services such as broadcasting.