A new wave of 5G to hit Australia

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By Adam Turner

Australians will get an early taste of 5G’s full potential when Telstra launches the country’s first “millimetre wave” 5G customer trials mid-year, which will see boosted mobile broadband speeds and reduced peak hour network traffic jams.

Telstra and Optus’ 5G rollouts are gradually extending across the country, with Vodafone scheduled to join them this month, but for all the hype so far we’ve only scratched the surface of 5G’s true potential.

These early 5G mobile networks run on similar wireless frequencies to the existing 3G and 4G networks, but 5G is also designed to take advantage of the much higher 26GHz band – dubbed millimetre wave or “mmWave” – that delivers even faster speeds over short distances.

Rather than extend the reach of 5G further into the suburbs, mmWave is set to boost capacity in high traffic areas. Likely locations include the central business district, along with major hubs such as train stations and sports stadiums.

Along with faster speeds, mmWave also offers lower latency, making it well-suited to the new generation of services and devices that demand quick response times, such as self-driving cars.

“More than four million people now pass through our 5G footprint and can access its benefits on any given day,” says Telstra CEO Andy Penn. “mmWave will supercharge 5G. Its higher capacity and the potential to deliver even faster speeds as well as lower latency will help power the next generation of devices and innovations.”

Along with providing 5G coverage to mobile phones, Optus is also using 5G to deliver fixed-wireless home broadband as a substitute for the NBN. In the future, mmWave 5G might also be used by Australia’s telcos to deliver fixed-wireless home broadband, reliant on an outdoor antenna, with the ability to offer gigabit download speeds 10 times faster than the typical fibre NBN connection.

While Telstra will begin consumer mmWave trails in the middle of this year, wide adoption is still several years away. The 26GHz mmWave spectrum won’t be auctioned by Australia’s telecommunications regulator until next year, with Telstra bidding against rivals including Optus and the newly merged TPG/Vodafone.

Telstra’s first mmWave-compatible 5G device will be its upcoming Telstra 5G Wi-Fi Pro mobile hotspot, with smartphones to follow. While most phone makers have released 5G-capable flagship handsets, with the notable exception of Apple, not all early 5G devices support mmWave bands.

While the 26GHz band is a step up from today’s mobile phone networks, health fears are unfounded and these bands have been safely used by radar and satellites for more than 50 years.

The science is clear and these 5G signals operate at far less than one per cent of maximum power levels considered safe for the general public, according to Australia’s radiation safety watchdog, Arpansa.

So far, Telstra has rolled out 5G coverage to selected areas in 32 major and regional cities around the country. At the same time, it is also extending the reach of its 4G network as its 3G shutdown approaches in 2024. The 850MHz spectrum currently used for the 3G network, and before that 2G CDMA, will be repurposed to expand the 5G network.

In preparation for the 3G shutdown, Telstra and networking giant Ericsson have announced a world-first in doubling the range of a 4G LTE tower to 200 kilometres. Requiring a software update rather than new hardware on mobile towers, the upgrade can eventually be rolled out across Telstra’s entire 4G network.

Telstra has committed to upgrading and expanding its 4G coverage over the next four years to a “materially equivalent size and reach” to its 3G footprint. Currently, 0.3 per cent of Australia’s population has only 3G coverage.
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