Huawei hopes to score with 5G at World Cup 2018

The partnership with Russian carrier MegaFon for a prototype network timed for the soccer competition should help pave the way to faster mobile networking than today's fourth-generation tech.

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Network equipment maker Huawei and Russian network operator MegaFon announced a memorandum of understanding to test 5G networking in 2018.
Network equipment maker Huawei and Russian network operator MegaFon announced a memorandum of understanding to test 5G networking in 2018. Huawei

Fourth-generation networking has only begun its slow global arrival, but Chinese network equipment maker Huawei and Russian carrier MegaFon plan to test a 5G network in 2018.

The companies announced the 5G deal Wednesday, saying they plan to build the technology ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018 international soccer tournament that's set to take place in Russia. Transitions to new mobile network technologies offer consumers faster download speeds, but they take years to complete.

"Thanks to this memorandum, Russia will be among pioneers to enjoy next-generation mobile telecommunications," said Mikhail Dubin, executive director of consumer business at MegaFon, which has 69 million subscribers and which provided 4G LTE services for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Of course, nobody will actually will have 5G-capable phones then, but Huawei plans to supply some. The company makes smartphones as well as the cellular network base stations they connect to wirelessly.

The Huawei-MegaFon deal is an experimental phase in the "natural progression" of new network technologies, said Craig Wigginton, who leads the telecom practice for consulting firm Deloitte. "By 2018, we should start seeing some pretty good results out of these tests," he said, but he doesn't expect broad commercial installations of 5G networks until after 2020.

5G networking will boost data rates so people can download video faster, but it's also expected to cut communication delays called latency, making it better for tasks where a fast response is needed -- augmented reality, video games, and control of automated equipment, for example. However, 5G isn't yet standardized, and network equipment makers are still working out the best designs and wireless radio spectrum choices for the next-gen networks.

Samsung demonstrated 5G network speeds of 7.5 gigabits per second for a stationary device and 1.2Gbps for a vehicle moving at about 60mph in October, a big step up from today's 4G technology, called LTE (Long-Term Evolution) that today tops out with download speeds of about 100Mbps. In practice today, LTE download speeds are slower, ranging from 24.5Mbps in Australia to 6.5Mbps in the US, according to OpenSignal measurements published earlier this year. The coming LTE-Advanced could in principle improve LTE speeds by a factor of 30 to 3Gbps.

Huawei wants to push 5G much faster than today's prototype technology. In an October demonstration with Etisalat, a network operator in the United Arab Emirates, Huawei showed its 5G technology reaching a speed of 115Gbps. That's remarkable, but in the real world, it'll be much harder to sustain since the necessary high-frequency radio waves can't travel very far.