The micro-state of San Marino is set to become the first country in the world to be upgraded to a nationwide 5G network after Telecom Italia said it would use the enclave as a test bed for the new technology.
Telecom Italia Mobile has signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of the tiny country to upgrade the existing 4G network in advance of a trial of 5G services in 2018.
It will double the number of mobile sites and will install a network of small cells in downtown San Marino, a Unesco heritage site, this year that will provide the backbone of the future commercial network.
Investment in 5G network trials are taking place around the world with carriers in South Korea, China and the US among the most active in testing 5G technology.
Giovanni Ferigo, head of technology for Telecom Italia Mobile, said San Marino’s 5G network would be the first in Europe “for sure”. The state, which has little more than 30,000 citizens, extends to only 61 sq km, making it the smallest republic in the world.
Telecom Italia is also testing 5G in Milan and Turin but has more freedom in San Marino to experiment because of fewer restrictions on the use of airwaves than in Italy. “We need to experiment as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr Ferigo said the work done in San Marino would play a critical role in the future of 5G technology in Italy but was also crucial to the wider European sector as standards for the new network are refined.
He argued that Europe was central to the development of 2G technology but lost that leadership position to Far Eastern carriers in 3G and to the US for the 4G upgrade. “For 5G, our intention is a European leadership in standardisation,” he said.
The European Commission published a 5G action plan last year when it estimated that sectors such as healthcare, transport, cars and utilities would see economic benefits of €113bn by 2025 from the technology.
Building new 5G networks is expected to cost €56bn and could create about 2.3m jobs. Some countries have committed to the first 5G launches in 2019 but the wider telecoms industry is still struggling to define exactly what 5G technology is and some have argued that it is not yet clear how they can justify spending billions on the new network.
Mr Ferigo said the San Marino launch would be “very important” in defining the use case for 5G that would transform all sectors from healthcare to robotics to public transport.
Telecom Italia has started working with companies including Maserati and Ducati on the use of better wireless technology but also the makers of parmesan cheese who want to better monitor the cows in their fields. Small territories have been used in the past for telecoms testing.
The first 3G trial in the UK took place on the Isle of Man, while the remote Isle of Bute in Scotland was used to test “white space” technology.