Telecom Italia (TIM) has announced details of an agreement with the Republic of San Marino to convert the micro-state into the first nation in Europe with a 5G mobile network. Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, the operator will start to update the mobile sites of its San Marino network with 4.5G technology this year, introducing 5G features such as evolved mast towers (MIMO 4×4), carrier aggregation, superior modulation and cloud architecture, as well as installing dozens of small cells in the main streets and piazzas of the historic center, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
TIM plans the commercial launch of the network by the end of 2018, and will be testing the technology and services in advance of that. The operator said the network will be able to reach a speed of around 10 times that of 4G, due to additional frequencies devoted to the new 5G radio interface (New Radio), combined with mast technology solutions (Massive MIMO and Beamforming).
TIM additionally said that the delivery of the new 5G network will also enable the creation of an ecosystem of local partners—including the San Marino government, the university and research centers, hospitals, sports teams, industry, the national tourism office and local transport—for the testing of innovative services for smart cities, public safety, the environment, health care, tourism and culture, transport and media.
In the meantime, the company is continuing with the installation of 100 5G-ready small cells in the northern city of Turin and is also taking part in pre-commercial government trials of 5G in Milan and Prato in the north of the country, L’Aquila in the center, and Bari and Matera in the south.
Back when 4G/LTE was becoming widely available, talk of higher-speed networks seemed to more about hype and branding than about utility. Would anyone really need gigabit speeds in real life? The answer appeared to be no. However, considering the levels to which mobile data consumption has risen, driven mainly (but of course not exclusively) by bandwidth-eating video and related entertainment content, it is now clear that higher data speeds than LTE can deliver will indeed be much appreciated and even necessary.
Trials of so-called 5G have been announced sporadically here and there; South Korea in particular has been aggressive in this area, and Qualcomm has announced that 5G products will be rolled out to the public for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Major operators in the U.S. say they have been testing 5G systems. However, it should be borne in mind that there are no official standards yet for 5G, so the very definition is uncertain, and there are a number of potential solutions. The most that can be said with certainty is that 5G is intended to deliver speeds that are not only much higher than LTE speeds but also much higher than stopgap systems such as LTE-A (based on carrier aggregation) can achieve—i.e., in the region of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps.
While we cannot know what exactly TIM’s system will be capable of, and while it is not clear how long it will be a “4.5G” before becoming a “5G,” it is worth noting that in San Marino, the operator has the perfect field in which to establish the first nationwide European 5G network. At just over 60 square kilometers, the tiny republic is so small that the challenge of achieving full coverage will in no way eclipse the challenge of achieving 5G functionality. But beyond that, San Marino is fully surrounded by Italy, so it provides a springboard with which to spread the high-speed service outside its borders. TIM’s intention to connect cities in the north, center, and south of Italy to the San Marino 5G networks illustrates the ambitions of this development project.