Optus will launch its 5G network in early 2019

Alex Kidman 2 February 2018

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Optus will feel the need for speed from early next year.

Australian telcos have often been world leaders when it comes to mobile network implementation, and Optus has announced plans to be amongst the first to kickstart 5G, announcing today that it will roll out a 5G network in "early 2019" based on the early 3GPP standards already laid down.

“Now 3GPP has finalised most parts of the world-wide standardisation of 5G technologies, Optus can increase momentum and throughout 2018, Optus is going to lead the Australian market in the development and deployment of pre-5G and 5G technologies,” said Optus' Managing Director of Networks Dennis Wong.

Where will Optus offer 5G services?

Optus' announcement is vague on specific details beyond the fact that it will offer fixed 5G services in "key metro areas".

Reading between the lines (and with past mobile technology rollouts in mind), those key metro areas are likely to be the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane CBDs, although it could well cover other Australian capitals. The higher frequencies used for 5G networks do present something of a challenge for longer distance coverage, something that every Australian telco will have to contend with for regional and rural users, so it's not surprising to see metro areas being first earmarked for 5G.

The Queensland Gold Coast is also possible given that Optus plans to showcase its 5G technology there during the 2018 Commonwealth games, so if it has infrastructure in place, it seems likely that it will utilise it once the network goes live in 2019.

What does "fixed 5G services" mean?

There are two fundamental challenges with 5G networks. Firstly you've got to build the actual network, and then you've got to have devices capable of talking to that network. So far in the mobile world, there simply aren't any mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets. It's expected that the 5G devices will be backwards compatible with existing 4G networks, but it's not likely that we'll see any 4G devices capable of firmware updates to 5G to speak of.

So what's Optus actually going to offer? From the sounds of it, its first foray into 5G won't be with a handset device capable of blisteringly fast speeds, but instead a fixed line product designed to offer home or office broadband. Optus already offers a range of home wireless broadband plans to consumers, and its initial 5G services will presumably follow that pattern.

How much will Optus 5G cost?

That's the multi-million dollar question. All of Australia's telcos are spending millions developing, testing and deploying 5G networks ahead of their launch with a view to providing fast mobile internet services.

Optus hasn't specifically announced what it will charge for its 5G plans, but like most fixed wireless plans, don't expect absolute bargains. While the cost of mobile data has come down in recent years while our appetites to consume it have only intensified, it's still markedly more expensive than an actual fixed line broadband product such as ADSL, Cable or NBN connections.

What are Optus' competitors doing in the 5G space?

Announcing that it will have a consumer product in 2019 is a bold first-mover step for Optus, but it's unlikely to have the 5G space to itself, if indeed it does manage to actually launch first.

At a media roundtable at CES 2018, Telstra CEO Andy Penn told finder that Telstra's intention was to be "amongst the world's first" to launch a 5G network. However, Penn declined to give any further specifics than that, but it seems unlikely that the nation's biggest telco will want to give Optus much, if any, head start.

For its part, Vodafone has been testing 5G networking solutions and is on the record as being keen to launch 5G services.

Then there's newcomer TPG, set to start building its own network in 2018. When it announced its network plans, there was no specific mention of TPG, but given the spectrum holdings the company already has, 5G has to be part of its ongoing plans even though its overall announced network coverage is likely to be significantly lower than that of the existing carrier networks.

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