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Australia Ramps Up On 5G, Telcos And Banks Among The First To Benefit

Commonwealth Bank has emerged as one of the early enterprise enthusiasts for 5G, while Australian consumers are already being wooed by the major telcos ahead of mainstream deployment of the technology starting this year.

Working with Telstra and Ericsson, Commonwealth Bank is exploring 5G to examine what the bank of the future might look like, and how the technology can reduce the network infrastructure in its branch network.

According to the bank’s executive general manager of digital and retail operations and technology, Pete Steel, 5G has significant potential to enhance the availability, stability and performance of its network infrastructure, enabling it to provide quicker and better digital experiences for consumers.

Consumers are also in the sights of the major 5G network frontrunners such as Telstra and Optus, which have started to deploy 5G in a handful of areas. Vocus, meanwhile, has signaled that its plans to market 5G as a better consumer alternative than entry-level NBN (National Broadband Network) plans.

In December 2018, four companies – Dense Air, Mobile JV (a joint venture between TPG Telecom and Vodafone Hutchison Australia), Optus Mobile and Telstra – paid A$853m for all 350 lots offered by the government in the 5G spectrum auction in the 3.8 GHs band.

Despite the federal government’s decision to essentially ban Huawei equipment from 5G networks now under construction, there seems to have been little interruption to the major telcos’ schedules.

It is worth noting, however, that Huawei equipment is embedded in the radio access network supporting Optus’ and Vodafone’s 4G networks, and is critical for mobile services outside of the major metropolitan areas where it will also play a role in 5G deployments.

Optus already has two live 5G sites in Canberra with the promise of another 58 sites in coming months. It is now asking for expressions of interest from consumers to be among the first users of the 5G Home Broadband service which it is offering for A$70 a month with a 50Mbps “satisfaction guarantee.”

Telstra, meanwhile, has been switching on its 5G technology since August 2018, and has so far enabled more than 200 sites thanks to its “early access” licence to the spectrum issued by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

This activity has led to the recently published 5G Leadership Index from consulting firm Arthur D. Little, which categorized Australia as a leader – as opposed to a follower or laggard – for both 5G infrastructure availability and commercialization.

Driving the activity is the promise of improved efficiency for telcos, the opportunity to explore edge computing solutions, and the promise of an economic dividend.

A 5G research report by Deloitte on behalf of Telstra released in 2018 cited forecasts from the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research, suggesting that 5G had the potential to boost GDP by at least A$32bn by 2030.

Deloitte’s survey of business leaders revealed that more than three quarters (78%) expected faster, more reliable and responsive mobile communications would benefit their business.

The report also looked at how leading innovators, such as Surf Life Saving NSW, transport company Linfox and agricultural firm Peloris, are using drones and IoT (internet of things)systems today that they expect to secure a boost from 5G – though business does remain concerned about the price of the upgraded services.

Alex Fernandez, Qualcomm’s senior director of business development and country manager for communications business, said: “5G is about the speed and it adds a lot of new capacity with the new spectrum. We will go from two gigabits on LTE to five or seven gigabits on 5G.

“That is enabling new use cases such as XR [Qualcomm’s parlance for virtual, mixed and augmented reality] solutions and automotive. There is a plethora of new use cases with some still being defined – but there are more use cases going into 5G than we had going into 4G.”

Qualcomm, which announced its first generation 5G chip in February 2019, expects demand to be consumer-led, especially once the second generation of chips, which support standalone mobile or 5G hotspots to be built into mobile devices, is released.

The flurry of 5G equipment announcements at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this February points to the array of end user devices now being developed to fully exploit the technology.

Sector-wise, Fernandez expects automotive and factories to be early adopters and beneficiaries of the network.

Word of caution

Meanwhile, Paul Budde, a telecoms analyst, sounded a note of caution. Noting that 5G is far more network-efficient and capacity-efficient than its predecessor, existing carriers will benefit from the ability to operate infrastructure in more efficient way.

“To get more traffic over the network and offer better services for customers without necessarily increasing the cost,” said Budde, who is less convinced that consumers will race to 5G which could take a couple of years to gain traction.

Similarly, he predicted that in spite of the hype about autonomous cars and their potential to use 5G networks to communicate, there will be a delay.

“Is there a market first? Also, you need to have large network coverage to deliver those services. In 5G, you would need towers every couple of hundred metres – that’s a 100-fold increase in the number of mobile towers that you have to put up, which is extremely costly.

“We hear a lot about autonomous cars, but imagine if have to have mobile towers every 200 metres along the highways.”

To stand a chance of making that commercially viable, Budde said there would have to be some form of co-operation between communications providers, or there would be an even more costly duplication or triplication of mobile towers to support 5G applications – particularly given Australia’s vast geography.

He said it is more likely that early use cases for the technology will emerge in more concentrated metropolitan locations, adding that it will likely take until the mid-2020s before there is sufficient 5G coverage to allow the roll-out of many innovative data services now being canvassed.―Computer Weekly

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