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There’s something fishy about Telenor’s 5G rollout

Salmon have taught Telenor a lot about 5G.

The Norwegian telco this week heralded the success of a 5G pilot at a remote fish farm and announced that it will now roll out the technology commercially in the surrounding area, a location in which 5G will likely serve as a substitute for high-speed fixed Internet.

Meanwhile, further inland, the operator has shared details of a small but growing 5G customer base that might not look particularly impressive on paper, but actually shows solid progress in the take-up of 5G mobile services in Norway.

Telenor has been working on a 5G pilot with the SalMar salmon farming company located in the Frøya municipality, a group of islands off the west coast of Norway, since 2019. The pilot centred around the transmission of video over 5G to help SalMar keep up with the requirements for monitoring its salmon cages.

Now Telenor is upgrading the 5G test network and making it available to the residents of Mausund, a fishing village with a population of a couple of hundred people.

“We are now opening up the 5G network that has been used in the project, so that most residents of Mausund have access to a state-of-the-art mobile network that offers fast speeds, lower delay and high capacity,” said Telenor Norway Manager, Petter-Børre Furberg, in a statement.

For the residents of Mausund, 5G will likely serve as both a bearer of mobile services and home broadband.

Telenor noted that it is in the process of phasing out its copper network, adding that “in places in which it is challenging to extend fibre, 5G will be an important technology.” Mausund will be the first island community in Norway to be able to connect to a 5G mobile network, Telenor said.

And there’s more to come for the fishing industry too. The pilot project with SalMar was about ensuring that video data transmission from water to land took place in real time, but with millions of hours of video recordings to analyse, SalMar needs a more efficient solution.

“The next step is to add a layer of artificial intelligence,” said Håvar Sandvik, IT manager at SalMar. “There is no doubt that 5G together with artificial intelligence will contribute to our ongoing work related to sustainable farming. 5G will both be able to optimize operations and contribute to even better fish welfare,” he said.

These are not big numbers of 5G users – or potential users – unless you count the 43,600 tonnes of salmon harvested by SalMar in the fourth quarter of last year. But Telenor’s 5G service is not restricted to vast quantities fish and a handful of fishermen.

The company last week announced that it has 200,000 5G phone users on its network in Norway, up by 115% since November last year, driven largely by the popularity of the various iterations of the iPhone 12. Telenor did not specify whether these customers are buying 5G-specific data plans, but is nonetheless viewing the figures as a sign that its customers continue to be “quick to adopt new services and products.” It is a year since Telenor launched its 5G network in Norway.

Telenor has rolled out 5G in parts of around a dozen major towns and cities, including Trondheim,  Fornebu, Oslo and Bergen and has said that as well as continuing to deploy 5G base stations in those areas, it will also add five more towns to its 5G footprint this year.

“There is now a change of pace that will mean that an average of 3,500 new people will have access to 5G every day for the next two years,” said Ric Brown, mobile director at Telenor Norway.

200,000 5G users may not look like a number to particularly shout about, but it’s worth pointing out that that’s getting on for 4% of the population in Norway. Whether those users can actually be considered 5G customers rather than Apple handset customers is debatable, but it’s hard to argue that the technology is gaining traction in Norway. For now, the killer applications – for want of a better expression – for 5G in Norway are businesses like fish farms and factories, for whom remote monitoring and so forth are something of a game changer. But those iPhone users will be important too.

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