2017's biggest announcement - unless China does similar. NTT Docomo CEO Kazuhiro Yoshizawa plans to go "nationwide" by 2023, per the generally reliable Nikkei Asia Review. The estimate is that the three Japanese telcos (DOCOMO, KDDI, Softbank) will spend a total of ~$45B, some of it on shared infrastructure, The story has been picked up by more than a dozen publications but that's about the only details we have. (If DOCOMO is spending half of the $5G, that's about $200/person servable.)
DOCOMO has been dropping hints for several months. I'm hoping for a detailed announcement either at the June 20th shareholders meeting or the next quarterly conference call. Nikkei has a May 22 comment from Yoshiwara "We will lead the world with our 5G technology."
DOCOMO has begun promoting strategies for 2020 & beyond with several mentions of 5G.
CTO Seizo Onoe in April told me the progress in mmWave has been outstanding; he now expects mmWave mobile to be widely deployed starting in 2020. He believes the costs will be quite reasonable, probably less than 4G. (The company is not projecting a capex increase while deploying more rapidly than anyone else.)
Six months ago, I think Ted Rappaport may have been the only expert predicting deployments so rapidly. Onoe himself a year ago predicted very little mmWave before 2022-2023. He changed his mind as new data came in. There are over 10,000 engineers working on 5G and things are coming very fast.
One reason DOCOMO can move quickly is they have about 5 times as many cells as the U.S. carriers, adjusted for population. The DOCOMO 161,900 cells are from their latest financial presentation. The AT&T and VZ 50-70,000 counts are also from financials. (Since I made that chart, AT&T has presented a 70,000 figure.) The U.S. cell density is among the lowest; 50-80% less than Spain, Japan, and China Mobile.
The whisper in the hall is that DOCOMO expects the 5G to win customers away from parent company NTT's landline business. With speeds in the hundreds of megabits and sometimes a gigabit, that's a real possibility.
Now, Verizon, and Japanese, and perhaps China Mobile are going as fast as they can.