Telstra ramps up 5G push

Published on the 19/12/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

Telstra 5G

First ‘customer’ connection, first Syd and Mel sites, but still no business gain…

Telstra has announced its first 5G customer connection as it gains early access to its 3.6GHz spectrum and switches on 5G for the first time at sites in Melbourne and Sydney – but don’t expect to benefit from the moves anytime soon.

Telstra was a heavy bidder in last week’s auction for the 3.6GHz spectrum, used for 5G, spending AU$386 million to secure between 30-80MHz of spectrum. Telstra was the biggest buyer in the auctions, run by the Australian Communications Media Authority, which saw telcos spending more than $830 million for spectrum.

“This series of network upgrades is also expected to help deliver world leading 4G speeds.”

The additional spectrum bolsters Telstra’s overall holding to 60MHz of contiguous 5G spectrum in all major cities and 50-80MHz in regional areas.

An agreement with the Australian Communications Media Authority for an ‘early access’ licence, has enabled Telstra to turn on its first sites in Sydney and Melbourne, ahead of earlier plans. Those sites join others in Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast.

Another 13 sites are due to be upgraded before the end of the calendar year.

“Over the coming months Telstra will continue expanding its 5G coverage with plans to roll out the technology and grow coverage to more cities, regional centres and high traffic areas,” says Telstra CEO, Andrew Penn.

He says the switching on of the small footprints for Sydney and Melbourne ‘is a crucial component of our plans to bring 5G services to as many of our customers as possible once 5G compatible devices are commercially available next year’.

While some have questioned the immediate business use for 5G, with no killer apps yet identified, the telco is counting on 5G playing a big role in its future. Penn says it’s investing $8 billion over five years to June 2019 to enhance the capacity, capability and reach of its mobile network.

But while Telstra has upgraded 187 sites for the new technology, 5G compatible devices are not yet available.

Earlier this month Telstra showcased several 5G prototype smartphones including a ZTE device which is the size of a standard handset. The telco also unveiled the HTC 5G Hub, which it expects to launch commercially in the first half of 2019 – one of the first commercially ready devices Telstra will retail.

That device is being used by Telstra’s first customer connection, Toowoomba-based civil engineering and construction company FKG Group, which is using the device to test its connectivity to the network, something Telstra says will allow exploration of transport, logistics and agribusiness use cases as the device evolves.

Last week the telco completed Australia’s first 5G to 5G video call using a Qualcomm 5G mobile test platform device.

But while the 5G devices might not be available, Penn says the site upgrades in preparation for 5G will have spin off benefits for customers. “This series of network upgrades is not only making Telstra’s mobile network 5G ready but is also expected to help deliver world leading 4G speeds,” he says.

The latest Mobile Economy report from mobile operator body GSMA, says Asia Pacific is on track to become the world’s largest 5G region by 2025, led by pioneering 5G markets such as Australia, China, Japan and South Korea.

GSMA says the region will play a ‘pioneering role’ in 5G.

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