Vietnam Puts 5G on Fast Track
Vietnam is making a tilt at the front ranks of telecom with an ambitious 5G timetable.
Its biggest operators are running 5G field trials and aim to have commercial services running next year.
If achieved, that would put them close behind the region's leaders, Korea and China.
The biggest local operator, Viettel, which carried out Vietnam's first 5G end-to-end 5G connection in May, has deployed 70 trial base stations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Rivals Mobifone and Vinafone are also in the 5G hunt with trials this year.
The driver for all of this is the government's economic ambitions.
"We want to be at the forefront of the fourth Industrial Revolution and develop the ICT sector," Information and Communications Minister Nguyen Manh Hung told Vietnam News.
Industrial 5G was a priority, Nguyen said. "Viettel and other network providers must experiment to cover 5G in all hi-tech zones, national innovation centres and smart factories by 2020," he said.
But this timetable is going to be a stretch, even for Viettel, the $11 billion heavyweight.
For one thing, the country advanced to 4G as recently as 2016. Operators elsewhere in the world have had eight or more years to achieve an economic return. Vietnam carriers will have barely half that.
Another issue is that, unlike every other developing country in the world, Vietnam won't be buying from Huawei.
There is no formal ban on buying Huawei kit, and neighboring countries Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia have no qualms, a recent New York Times story points out.
But Vietnam has historically had an uneasy relationship with China. The two countries fought a short war in 1979 and Vietnam, like other neighbors, is wary of China’s expansion into the South China Sea.
Mobifone and Vinaphone are going with Samsung and Nokia respectively.
Viettel, which is owned by the Vietnamese military, doesn't use Huawei in its 4G network, although it did buy some 3G equipment from the Chinese vendor a decade ago.
It appears likely to choose Ericsson, its trial partner, or Nokia for its radio network.
But when it comes to the core, it is even more ambitious.
It plans to build its own equipment to ensure the “security of the national telecommunications network," an unnamed Viettel executive told the Nikkei Asian Review earlier this year.
It wants to produce "80% of [its] telecom core network infrastructure" equipment by 2020.
"Viettel has invested millions of dollars to develop 5G chips and is working on developing devices with 5G chips," the executive said.
Unusually for an operator, Viettel has a commercial solutions division which sells solutions, including a billing platform, to other telcos.
It has already developed an EPC for LTE which it demonstrated at MWC Barcelona in February.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading