5G in Japan: Gov’t to Allow 5G Base Stations to be Installed on 200,000 Traffic Lights Nationwide

The Japanese government will allow Japan’s major carriers to install 5G base stations on 200,000 traffic lights nationwide by the end of March 2024, in order to reduce the time and cost needed to fully implement the next generation of ultra-fast mobile networks. This is according to a news report by the Nikkei.

The plan is part of the government’s draft IT strategy guidelines and is expected to be approved by the cabinet in mid-June.

5G rollout in Japan

5G network speeds are meant to have a peak data rate of 20 Gb/s for the downlink and 10 Gb/s for the uplink, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Latency in a 5G network could get as low as 4 milliseconds in a mobile scenario and can be as low as 1 millisecond in Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication scenarios. (Source: SDX Central)

Japan’s three major carriers (NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp., SoftBank Corp.) and  e-commerce giant Rakuten have plans to do 5G trials this year after having received mobile frequency bands from the government in April. Commercial rollout is expected to start in 2020. (Source: Japan Times)

Tests of 5G equipment on traffic signals are scheduled to begin in several cities in fiscal 2020 (which ends in March 2021), with a goal of completing the nationwide installation by the end of fiscal 2023.

5G will connect people much more quickly and will also allow machines, cars, city infrastructure, and public safety networks to communicate with each other.

How fast is 5G?

According to the carriers, consumers will be able to send and receive data about 100 times faster than the current 4G networks, which means you could potentially download a two-hour movie on your smartphone in about 3-seconds.

However, Japan seems to be a little late to the party in terms of building out 5G. South Korean and US mobile carriers apparently launched commercial service to users in April this year, albeit on a limited scale.

Why use traffic signals for base stations?

In wireless networking, a base station is a radio receiver/transmitter that serves as the hub of the local wireless network. It may also be the gateway between a wired network and the wireless network and usually consists of a low-power transmitter and wireless router. (Source: Wikipedia)

To support nationwide coverage for 5G networks, Japan will need several hundred thousand base stations. Japan’s mobile carriers will continue to use existing 4G base stations, but they will also need to install additional units because 5G signals reach shorter distances, so more stations are required to cover the gap.

Carriers usually set up base stations on rooftops in areas where there isn’t enough land to build transmission towers, but negotiating with landlords for the right to install base stations on their rooftops takes considerable time and effort.


The four carriers plan to make a total infrastructure investment of about ¥1.6 trillion ($14.8 billion) over the next five years (through fiscal 2024, which ends in March 2025) to support their 5G networks.

Docomo invested about ¥2.4 trillion  in 4G base stations between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2018 and had 208,500 stations by the end of that time, which means that each base station cost about ¥10 million.

However, the average cost for 5G stations should be lower, since existing equipment can be made compatible with the new service by upgrading the software.

This is also where traffic signals come in. By allowing the carriers to install base stations on traffic signals, the outlay for building new stations could be cut significantly.

High density of traffic signals in Japan

Japan has a higher density of traffic lights than most other countries.

According to the National Police Agency’s “Report of Stock Number of Traffic Signals by Prefecture,” Japan had a total of 204,713 traffic signals, as of the end of FY2012. About 15,677 of these are located in the city of Tokyo. (Source: Smartdrivermagazine.jp)

By comparison, the United States, which has a land area of about 9.8 million square-km (versus Japan’s 378,000 square-km) has about 310,000 traffic signals.

The central government plans to discuss the idea of installing base stations on traffic signals with the carriers and have the cost split with local governments; but the details on how expenses will be shared are not yet decided.

How could base stations affect our lives – beyond faster download speeds?

Sensors with IoT (Internet of Things) functionality will be attached to traffic signals along with base stations in order to create “trusted mesh networks”. These are networks that can transmit information even if an emergency or natural disaster cuts off connection to the broader Internet.

Mobile carriers, the police and local governments would each have their own private mesh networks, and municipal governments would be able to use base stations installed on traffic lights  to develop services for local residents.

For example, in an emergency, you could scan your My Number identification card to let the municipal authority know that you are safe. This information would then be communicated to your family.

The technology is also applicable to driverless cars. Information on surrounding traffic conditions, such as whether there is congestion or even whether there are elderly people or young children walking by, could be transmitted to nearby driverless autos.

More broadly, the government sees 5G as a pillar of supporting the growth of Japan as a digital society and is committed to promoting this next-generation network. The concerned agencies (including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the National Police Agency, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism among other ministries and local governments) will start meetings this summer to discuss the concrete details for rolling out the strategy.

Lead photo: Traffic signal in Nagasaki City,  TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) via Flickr

News source: Nikkei, June 6, 2019

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