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Becoming an international 5G beacon is not easy, and it’s even more difficult when the local regulatory and market environment represents a hurdle. Sunrise in Switzerland did just that: it not only successfully deployed 5G in a country with stringent requirements, but it managed to become an internationally recognized success story. Sunrise marked the industry-first 5G networks in Europe, having launched in April 2019 at the same time as the world-leading mobile operators of South Korea. It thus put Switzerland at the center of the global mobile stage.

Sunrise managed to overcome many limitations: physical site availability, spectrum availability (it held less than the incumbent), and power emission and transmission constraints (microwave-based transport).

The first focus of the company was to concentrate on high-quality, fast network deployment. In its first phase, Sunrise targeted customers who do not have a fiber-optic connection at home or work and offered them fiber-like connectivity with 5G-FWA. It then rapidly evolved to a full-mobile and service-rich strategy..


Thriving in a challenging environment: it’s all about the network

The Sunrise success story starts with the network, where Sunrise explicitly concentrated on solutions aimed at overcoming several physical constraints. Sunrise had fewer sites than the local incumbent; it also had to deal with insufficient site resources (97% of the network comprising a single pole), a limitation that it overcame by deploying a compact multiband solution that can be mounted on a single pole, specifically without the need to create or access additional site space or resources.

At the 5G frequency auction in February 2019, Sunrise acquired the strategically essential frequencies in the 3.5GHz band that, combined with its existing frequencies, enabled the operator to extend the 4G area coverage of above 96% and deliver one of Europe’s first 5G networks. During the summer of 2019, the 5G rollout continued swiftly, and by October 2019 Sunrise had already covered 309 cities and villages. As of January 2020, Sunrise claims to have the biggest and fastest 5G network in Switzerland with 5G coverage of 426 cities and villages throughout Switzerland.

Sunrise’s success comes from its clever network strategy. It’s chiefly an ultra-lean approach to site development. Sunrise’s sites had only one antenna layer and faced a stringent planning permission process, which would have taken 6–12 months (if no objection was raised). Availability of space on towers was also constrained, because too much equipment was needed to host an array of frequency bands including 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2600MHz, and 3700MHZ. Furthermore, nearly a third of the sites were not equipped with 5G-ready microwaves.

As a solution, Sunrise opted to deploy Huawei’s compact and lightweight active and passive AAUs (antenna units), which can support a full range of multiple frequencies of bands and modes, thus saving time, physical space (around 2 meters), deployment time, and deployment costs.


Figure: Sunrise 5G network coverage map, February 20, 2020

Sunrise 5G network coverage map February 20 2020

Source: Sunrise


It’s also about services and service innovation

From the outset, Sunrise tested different deployment scenarios including dense urban, urban, rural, and tourist locations; highways; and indoors for a well-developed portfolio of connectivity services comprising 5G-FWA for fiber-like connectivity, mobile data connectivity for both contract and prepaid customers, a range of six models of 5G smartphones (from midrange to high end), and 5G portable hotspots.

For Sunrise, 5G is not just about faster connectivity: the company pioneered revenue-generating 5G services such as Sunrise Game Cloud, a cloud-gaming subscription that is sold exclusively to 5G subscribers for an additional CHF9.90 (roughly €10) per month thus creating a win-win-win combination of network, devices, and services.

Of course, 5G means more than providing innovative services to consumers. Sunrise is active in key economic sectors such as farming, manufacturing, and entertainment. Smart Farming helps farmers optimize their cows’ milk production and track their feeding behaviors; Smart Manufacturing assists high-precision manufacturers in innovating and optimizing processes that lead to uninterrupted production; and Smart Stadium makes it possible for stadiums to offer enriched viewing experiences such as instant replays, multicamera features, and virtual stadium visits.


European CSPs should look up to Sunrise

For many European countries, Sunrise’s success can be used as a reference. For example, C-band and massive MIMO, compounded with a deployment strategy based on a compact and multiband solution for antenna installation, provide a viable way to overcome limitations and accelerate network construction; these are common issues for many European countries, and Sunrise provides a good example of how to deal with them effectively.

“Outstanding Network,” “Best 5G Coverage,” and “The Fastest 5G Network” are some of the most prestigious awards Sunrise won in a 5G-network measurement analysis by RootMetrics. Sunrise also received the 2019 Innovation Award from connect for its fast 5G network expansion. Sunrise asserts itself as a Europe-leading service provider that can inspire its European peers. While many European operators are still in the 5G planning stage, Sunrise has already managed to achieve 3.67Gbps speed on a 5G downlink with multiple smartphones from one 5G cell, a result achieved through the adoption of MU-MIMO technology.