5G pilots to kick off in Estonia next year

While 5G is yet to be standardized, Estonia's mobile operators are already beginning to experiment with the technology.

Estonian mobile operator EMT is set to start piloting 5G in the second half of next year.

"New mobile internet technologies have come out every ten years on average, and this will probably happen with 5G too," EMT's technology director Tiit Tammiste said.

"5G enables more devices to interact with each other. We are already seeing the birth of the internet of things based on 4G networks, but at some point they won't be enough and 5G is going to be introduced, " he said.

Ahead of the rollout, EMT staffers visited Ericsson's innovation studio in Stockholm to test out the company's first 5G networking kit, which will theoretically enable download speeds of up to 100Gbps. Estonian testers saw real-world speeds of up to 4.4Gbps.

EMT, which is owned by the Swedish TeliaSonera group, says it's too early to tell if the company will use Ericsson's or one of its competitor's equipment when it begins its initial tests next year, nor was the carrier keen to give more precise details on the likely speeds or timeline for the commercial launch of 5G in Estonia.

Local rival Tele2 Estonia is making more cautious prognoses regarding the new technology.

"The exact definition and technology of 5G isn't fully established in the technology world yet, but expectations are high. I assume that the test technologies will arrive in Estonia around 2018 and in 2020 we will have it in commercial use," Tele2 Estonia's CEO Argo Virkebau said.

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The country's third mobile operator, Elisa Estonia, expects to see the launch of 5G in Estonia sometime after 2020.

"At the moment the 5G standard is not internationally standardized yet and work is still going on in that field. The technology will probably be available on the market by 2020, and after that we will be able to build our own 5G networks," said Elisa Estonia CTO Andrus Kaarelson.

As operators wait for the next generation of mobile technology to arrive, new iterations of 4G are being already introduced in the local market.

In August last year, the biggest local operator EMT introduced LTE-A in some areas in the capital city Tallinn and some of the surrounding areas. The company has been continuously increasing its LTE-A coverage by building up the number of compatible base stations and connecting them to the fibre network to offer a high-speed connection.

In January the company also started to offer new mobile data packages with no limits on connection speed (depending on where the user is, they could theoretically reach 300Mbps for downloads and 50Mbps for uploads) with data allowances of either 1.5G , 5GB, 10GB, or 20GB a month. The cost varies from €7.49 to €22.99 per month.

During the recent upgrade work on its mobile infrastructure in the Baltic states, Tele2 rolled out LTE-A, which is capable of offering download speeds of up to 300Mbps. While its LTE-A infrastructure is already in place, the company is still waiting for compatible end-user devices to enter the market before launching LTE-A services commercially.

"This year 4G and its further development will be more important to us. We are already ready to launch LTE-Advanced technology which enables download speed up to 300Mbps. We just have to wait for the LTE-Advanced end-user devices to arrive in the Estonian market and gain user numbers," Virkebau said, adding that in the near future 4G voice calls (also known as VoLTE) will be enabled on its network.

Elisa's Kaarelson hopes that in the near future standardized 4.5G technologies will become more established and the technology will be implemented across the operators' networks over the next two to three years.

"4.5G technologies provide bigger upload and download speeds, up to 1Gbps, and let operators fine tune the networks that provide mobile internet service more efficiently, according to the locations and using habits of the customers," he said.

4G was first introduced in Estonia in December of 2010, when EMT rolled out its LTE network - only the 11th such network in the world at the time. By the end of the summer of last year, all three local mobile operators - EMT, Elisa, and Tele2 Estonia - had each covered at least 95 percent of the country with their respective 4G networks.

The improved coverage and lower prices have led to a growing interest in smart devices. According to the survey of GfK Retail and Technology, of 408,600 new mobile phones sold in Estonia last year, 71 percent were smartphones.

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