Author(s): Raghu Gopal
By global standards, Finnish Elisa is a very small telecom operator, with only 4.5 million wireless connections. However, its size never prevented it from being a technology leader. For example, back in 1991, when the company was called Radiolinja, it launched the world's first commercial GSM service, helping put Finland on the map as a leader in wireless communication.
So it's not completely surprising that 5G is getting some sort of start in Finland. A couple of weeks ago, Elisa launched its 5G network in the city centres of Tampere, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia. The operator is charging €50 (about $58) per month for unlimited data and voice access and €45 (about $52) per month for unlimited data without voice calls.
However, Elisa's 5G service has one major flaw: there are no supporting devices available. If a customer subscribes to one of its 5G tariffs, they're only able to access a 4G service. Although the operator should be commended for its ambition to bring 5G to market early, we believe it risks confusing the market.
Elisa points out that its 5G service is simply a kick-start for greater 5G things to come, as it builds out its fifth-generation network in Finland and prepares to make true 5G mobility available to consumers and enterprises in applications spanning healthcare, transportation and the energy grid. However, the unrelenting hype for 5G could undermine the technology if it falls short of initial customer expectations.
Elisa is transmitting over 3.5 GHz spectrum using a bandwidth of 100 MHz. In reality, at that frequency, the service probably isn't any faster than LTE speeds available in the area, but it will allow the operator to "learn while it earns", testing 5G infrastructure and consumption patterns.
While operators and regulators in China, South Korea and the US have been positioning themselves to become 5G trend-setters, several smaller countries such as Finland along with its Nordic neighbours as well as tech-savvy nations like Singapore, are eager to get 5G services off the ground, not just for bragging rights, but also for enabling new types of service.
Elisa and Finland certainly have a wireless track record to defend. Many mobile firsts have been achieved in the country, whose population tends to be particularly eager to absorb new technologies. For operators around the globe, Finland will make a useful petri dish. Rivals should keep a close eye on this Finnish 5G roll-out, as the country acts as a useful leading indicator. The Internet of Finns has been wireless for a long time, but now it's moving up a generation.
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