Having missed out on World Cup soccer, the Finns are satisfying their urge to compete on the 5G front instead. This week they claim to have launched the world's very first "commercial" 5G service, tearing past US and Asian frontrunners with a burst of speed that no one expected. (See Eurobites: Sunrise Welcomes 5G Dawn.)
That's right. While the likes of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) have been gabbling about a 5G service launch in late 2018, at the very earliest, Finnish mobile operator Elisa Corp. has snuck one past them, as a soccer pundit might say. European 5G lag? What European 5G lag?
Elisa, which operates the biggest mobile network in Finland, was desperately keen to emphasize this is a "commercial" launch, and not just your usual run-of-the-mill laboratory test or field trial. So keen, in fact, that it uses the word "commercial" no fewer than six times in its press release to hammer home the point.
But it's a pretty exclusive commercial service, it seems, with a grand total of two subscribers. One is Anne Berber, Finland's minister of transport and communications, while the other is Kadri Simon, the minister of economic affairs and infrastructure. They've been busy chatting to each other on a video call while Elisa waits for other customers to arrive on the network.
Indeed, the operator claims to have already started selling 5G subscriptions. Party poopers who just aren't into the whole spirit of 5G will undoubtedly try to spoil the fun by inquiring how, rudely noting that 5G chipsets haven't yet arrived and that Finland hasn't even auctioned 5G spectrum licenses.
To the naysayers, this will also be worth filing away as an outstanding example of what happens when Finnish marketers -- frustrated by their footballers' failure to qualify for the World Cup -- load up on caffeine, lock those pedantic technical types out of the marketing office and get creative.
Whatever Elisa has actually introduced, the industry can probably look forward to many more faux 5G launches in the next few months. In fact, US 5G evangelist AT&T started the ball rolling months ago: "5G Evolution," as it branded one service (to much derision), turned out to mean 4G evolution. (See AT&T Rolls Out Faux 5G in 100+ US Markets.)
Over on this side of the pond, there is even now some concern among senior technology executives that smartphones will start to flash up the "5G" signal when operators are not really delivering a 5G service. (See Petty's Grievances: The 5G Hopes & Fears of Vodafone UK's CTO.)
Elisa, in fairness, has been ahead of the game on 4G and has thrived in the Finnish market despite tough competition from Telia, one of Europe's biggest operator groups. Its investments in automation, and efforts to sell its automation tools and expertise to other telcos, definitely merit attention. (See The Trendiest Telcos Don't Wear SOCs, The Zero-Person Network Operations Center Is Here (in Finland) and Finland's Elisa is selling its automation smarts to other telcos.)
So those boring naysayers and pedants can just back off. Who really cares about minor details like device availability and spectrum permits when there are superfast mobile connections to sell? Let's get Europe's 5G party started.
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading