Telefónica pledges to bring 5G to 75% of Spanish population by end of the year

The telecoms giant switched on the mobile network signal on Tuesday, but the commercial launch is not expected before early November

Telefónica has pledged to deliver 5G to the largest urban centers in the country.
Telefónica has pledged to deliver 5G to the largest urban centers in the country.Efe
Ramón Muñoz

Spain’s telecoms giant Telefónica on Tuesday announced that it has switched on its 5G signal, and promised that 75% of the Spanish population will have access to the new mobile network standard by the end of the year.

However, the commercial launch will take place in late October or early November to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of 5G-enabled mobile devices on the market.

The company said that 5G will be rolled out before year’s end in the 150 Spanish cities with a population of over 50,000, in most municipalities with 30,000 residents, in more than 50% of those with 20,000 inhabitants and in a few locations with populations of around 10,000. Total coverage will be the equivalent of 75% of Spain’s population of 47 million.

The fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks uses greater bandwidth and offers faster download speeds, the ability to have many devices connected at the same time, and a very fast response time enabling applications such as autonomous cars and the so-called “internet of things.”

Race to roll out 5G

The move builds on Telefónica Executive Chairman José María Álvarez-Pallete’s pledge to lead the roll-out of 5G technology in Spain.

Rival company Vodafone pioneered 5G services in the Spanish market in June 2019, and since then it has rolled them out in 21 cities. The third major player in Spain, Orange, is planning to launch 5G this month in five large cities – Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Málaga – for a national coverage of 20%. And MasMóvil, which has a deal to use the French operator’s network, will do the same simultaneously.

Telefónica executive chairman José María Alvarez-Pallete (r) with Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez at a conference on Monday.
Telefónica executive chairman José María Alvarez-Pallete (r) with Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez at a conference on Monday. Mariscal (EFE)

But all companies will offer 5G on the 3.7GHz band, which has low penetration inside buildings, and is an intermediate technology that is in fact an evolution of today’s 4G, and known as 5G NSA (Non-Standalone).

This means that it will not provide many of the 5G Standalone specifications. In order to fully enjoy the true possibilities of 5G, residents of Spain will have to wait until the government holds a spectrum auction for the 700 MHz band, a move that is expected in the first quarter of 2021.

Lack of devices

A shortage of 5G-enabled devices is also slowing down the roll-out of the technology. For now, brands such as Samsung, LG, Xiaomi, Oppo, One Plus and Huawei have launched 5G terminals, but these are still on the top end of the scale with price tags of around €1,000. Phone makers including Apple are expected to offer more affordable 5G devices by this fall.

Telefónica said that unlike its competitors, it can bring 5G from the first moment to a much larger population thanks to a technology that combines 5G NSA and DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing), using existing infrastructure that will be expanded with new stations.

“Enormous benefits are on their way to Spain,” said Álvarez-Pallete in a press release. “5G is not only a new generation of mobile telephony, it is also a revolution because of its practical applications in all sectors and because it allows for the expansion of ultra-high-band frequency in rural areas and depopulated parts of Spain. This is a golden opportunity for Spain to lead the fourth industrial revolution and make the most of Europe’s outstretched hand in the reconstruction process.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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