What is the current state of 5G in Australia now that Telstra and Optus have both unveiled and initiated their plans for the future of the Australian cellular network?
5G is the next generation of mobile technology that will supposedly transform not only the way we connect online but how we live and work together through our interconnected devices.
ChannelNews was today invited to the launch of the Optus ‘market-leading 5G offer’ providing ‘on the go’ and in-home 5G mobile network connectivity, which has been developing over the last ten months.
The current augmentation of the 4G network to improve latency has allowed Optus to go ‘all in with 5G’, promising to deliver top speeds by 2021.
Optus has over 290 5G sites across Australian capital cities, with 1200 sites planned for construction by March 2020.
Over 200 customers are already experiencing the Optus 5G home experience which is being delivered via the Nokia FastMile 5G Gateway, explicitly designed for in-home use.
From today the 5G Home service will be made available to 138,00 homes in selected areas for online purchase, as well as from 170 stores.
Optus CEO, Allen Lew was realistic in his expectations of their 5G coverage, using current users as an example who are experiencing an average speed at peak time (7 pm to 11 pm) of 164Mbps, with top rates reaching upwards of 400Mbps.
To ensure quality in their connection speeds, Optus maintains a 50Mbps Satisfaction Guarantee, ‘download speeds of at least 50Mbps.’
Optus 5G mobile ‘on the go’ services is currently supported on the following handsets:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10
- Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
- Oppo Reno 5G
Optus views its 5G mobile coverage as optimising the technology highway; not only adding more lanes, but maintaining those extra lanes, or as Mr Lew put it, ‘fewer potholes’.
This process will also include complete 5G coverage at Optus stadium in Perth, which is expected by the opening game for the West Coast Eagles in the 2020 AFL season.
Telstra, on the other hand, has been a touch more aggressive with its rollout of 5G network capabilities, promoting the idea that ‘we’re not ready for 5G’.
The current 5G network footprint for Telstra is focused on CBD areas, as well as selected regional centres, where over 4 million people live.
In the last six months, Telstra has ‘switched on’ 5G networks across ten cities, with 35 more cities to come over the next 12 months.
Telstra currently operates over 200 5G-enabled mobile base stations across the country representing an investment of around $8 billion over five years to 30 June 2019 beginning in 2018.
Continuing the link to the AFL, for the 2019 Grand Final, Telstra was able to provide patrons with access to 5G, marking the Melbourne Cricket Ground the first stadium in Australia to receive the upgraded cellular coverage.
Using mmWave bands, Telstra was able to achieve network speeds of around 3Gbps during its 2018 Gold Coast 5G trial, though it should be noted that this is not a fair representation of real-world speeds, which is closer to between 100Mbps and 400Mbps in covered areas.
Telstra offers a slightly broader selection of 5G handsets including:
- LG V50 Thinq
- Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
- Samsung Galaxy S10+ (with 5G upgrade at no extra cost)
- Oppo Reno 5g
In partnership with Ericsson UE, Telstra offers the HTC 5G Hub, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that can also function as an entertainment system.
Curiously, from 30 June 2020 Telstra 5G access will no longer be free, with customers needing to opt-in for a $15 month to month plan.
Optus does not currently charge its users a service fee for using its 5G network, however, Mr Lew has not ruled out charging its customers once the higher coverage is achieved.
While it is still early days for the 5G cellular network, the dichotomy of approaches from Optus and Telstra reveal two different schools of thought from the two major Australian telcos.
As a result, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts has launched an inquiry into 5G technology to hear about the opportunities and challenges of the rollout, according to Committee Chair, Nationals MP Dr David Fillespie.
Optus is clearly showing caution and patience in their rollout, with complete transparency regarding peak speeds and real-world performance from their network.
Telstra, on the other hand, is more aggressively pushing its rollout to attract a larger percentage of the early-adoption tech market.
However, until such a point that latency can be reduced, 5G may not truly transform our lives just yet.