Viettel Group, Vietnam's largest mobile carrier, will launch a trial service of 5G networks in Laos by year-end, expanding the list of Southeast countries where it seeks to commercialize the service to four, Nikkei Asian Review reported.
The military-run telecom company has been testing the next-generation technology in Myanmar and Cambodia through local arms since summer, and in its home market since last month, seeking to offer affordable service.
Viettel has not announced whether it will reject using equipment from China's Huawei Technologies as it did for its home market.
A Viettel group member, Unitel, will become the first Laotian carrier to test 5G networks. Unitel boasts 6,000 3G and 4G base stations, covering 95% of the country, according to local media. It commands more than half the local market with about 3 million subscribers.
In Vietnam, the company rolled out a test in Ho Chi Minh City using hardware from Finland's Nokia for a commercial launch next year. Viettel has indicated that it will mainly use hardware from Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson in Vietnam.
Viettel, owned by Vietnam's Ministry of National Defense, is the industry leader there with some 60 million subscribers. It has been stepping up its expansion into countries that are late to the 5G game, with operations in about 10 markets within Southeast Asia as well as Africa and South America.
Previously in an interview with Bloomberg, Viettel CEO Le Dang Dung said the company would use 5G chipsets from Qualcomm and another US company.
“We are not going to work with Huawei right now,” Dung was quoted as saying. “It’s a bit sensitive with Huawei now. There were reports that it’s not safe to use Huawei. So Viettel’s stance is that, given all this information, we should just go with the safer ones. So we choose Nokia and Ericsson from Europe.”
Other leading carriers in Vietnam appear to be shying away from Huawei, as well. MobiFone is using Samsung Electronics equipment while Vietnam Telecom Services Company, or Vinaphone, entered into a partnership with Nokia to deploy its 5G network, according to local media.
Local carriers plan to launch ultrafast 5G networks by 2021, a move in line with the government's push to make Vietnam a hub for industries that rely on faster data transmission, such as artificial intelligence and the "internet of things."
Last November, Nguyen Manh Hung, who led Viettel before being appointed Minister of Information and Communications, said that by 2020 when the world starts implementing 5G, Vietnam would be one of the first countries to launch it.
Hung added that while all 2G and 3G network devices are imported, Vietnam will be able to produce the 5G network devices locally by 2020.