Next-generation wireless networks are coming, but what’s in it for businesses and individuals?
First Optus announced that it would be launching 5G services in 2019. Then a Telstra executive told the Australian Financial Review that it was also planning a 5G launch next year.
But what will those services actually mean for individuals and businesses?
There are a number of ways 5G technology could (and probably will) be applied, including as an upgrade for 3G/4G networks, of course.
Details of Telstra’s initial 5G services are yet to be released, but Optus has announced its first 5G implementation will be fixed broadband services to homes and businesses in “key metro areas”. That puts it in competition with the NBN and other fixed broadband providers such as TPG.
Can wireless broadband – even 5G – really compete with fibre and the other types of wired technologies being used by the NBN?
How fast is 5G?
Both Optus and Telstra say they have conducted successful 5G trials, boasting some impressive speeds.
Optus, in conjunction with hardware supplier Huawei, recently conducted an outdoor trial of 5G at its Sydney headquarters. The telco said that the millimetre wave (mmWave) band – one of the two used in the trial – can provide peak data speeds of 15 gigabits per second to a single user. And using “commercial grade” dual-band equipment, the trials achieved download speeds of 2Gbps, according to Optus.
Theoretically, that’s a big jump from the fastest broadly available NBN tier of 100 megabits per second, although parts of that network are, or soon will be, capable of 1Gbps, according to NBN Co.
However, no indication was given of the distance covered by Optus’ test (the shorter the range, the more base stations would be needed to cover a given area), or of the number of simultaneous users that could achieve 2Gbps in the tests (smaller cells generally mean fewer users).
Meanwhile, Telstra announced it would demonstrate 5G download speeds of around 3Gbps using mmWave spectrum. Again, there was no mention of whether the test conditions reflected those of real-world services.
It’s not only about download speeds, of course, but here again the telcos are making big promises.
“5G has the potential to transform the way we all live and work. Like previous generations of mobile technology it will deliver more capacity and faster data speeds but on top of that it will support vastly more connected devices at very high levels of reliability and lower latency,” said Telstra Chief Operations Officer, Robyn Denholm.
It isn’t just about providing high-speed connections, either. 5G can also better support Internet of Things applications where a massive number of devices exchange modest amounts of data, according to the telcos.
What can 5G be used for?
One thing is for sure: the competition in 5G will be fierce in 2019. But it appears we’ll see a preview of that battle on the Gold Coast this year, with Optus announcing it will showcase 5G technology at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and Telstra opening a ‘5G Innovation Centre’ at its Southport exchange.
The choice of the Gold Coast is unlikely to be coincidental, as 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project – the international organisation behind standards for mobiles) is meeting there in September.
Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre is designed to foster collaboration among technology vendors, developers, startups and enterprises. The telco is also using the centre to showcase the high-bandwidth, low-latency applications enabled by 5G.
For example, the centre will be demonstrating a live virtual reality view from a vehicle driver's perspective, controlling large numbers of drones simultaneously (using beam forming to direct the signal to each one), and the remote control of a robotic arm.
“5G will take us from a world of connecting people to each other and the internet to a world of ultra-fast mobile speeds and the Internet of Things on a mass scale. These enhancements will unleash a host of new opportunities – everything from smart cities and smart homes, to drones and driverless cars, to augmented reality in both entertainment and at work,” said Denholm.
“For example, drones can operate over 4G today but when the ultra-high reliability and incredibly low latency of 5G becomes available more sophisticated applications will be possible, such as drone swarms and autonomous drones that can communicate and adjust behaviour based on real-time data inputs.”
Optus Managing Director of Networks Dennis Wong said: “Everyone has heard of concepts like self-driving cars, smart homes, AI and virtual reality, however their full potential will require a fast and reliable network to deliver. Seeing 5G data speeds through our trial that are up to 15x faster than current technologies allows us to show the potential of this transformative technology to support a new eco-system of connected devices in the home, the office, the paddock and in the wider community.”
The bottom line
With the first broadly available services still a year away, the jury is still out on 5G. However, if its performance claims end up only being half true, 5G will enable some advanced new applications – and it could indeed be an NBN competitor, particularly for businesses in metropolitan areas.
NBN Co has reportedly been considering adding 5G to its multi-technology mix, according to iTnews, but sees contractual obstacles.
Ultimately, of course, pricing and value in the form of monthly data allowances will also have a big say over 5G’s success.