When is 5G (the Fifth Generation) coming to Australia?

5G in Australia

5G is already in Australia, but the rollout continues

We’ve heard about 5G – the fifth generation wireless network technology – for years. We’ve heard about the high speed and bandwidth, the low latency, the possibilities it’ll bring for other technologies to emerge. How 5G will boost innovation in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, and many more.

We waited for the tech to go commercial, and it did. 5G went live in Australia last year, and you can compare 5G plans to experience the technology today. And although Telstra had already launched the technology in 2018, Optus had the first usable 5G device in January 2019 when it announced its expression of interest campaign to allow select customers test its fixed home wireless 5G plan.

But that’s far from the whole story. Although 5G has already come to Australia, its availability is limited to select suburbs. Also, the technology is only available to Australia’s three MNOs (Mobile Network Operators – the major networks Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone), and their 5G coverage and availability varies.

There’s also a limited number of 5G handsets out there, and we expect more to come – but for now, that limited availability means their prices are pretty high. And with new mmWave spectrum being auctioned off next year for even faster 5G speeds, we’re obviously yet to experience what 5G can really do.

Read on to find out all about 5G availability in Australia.

Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone

Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have turned on 5G in select areas in Australia

Telstra 5G availability in Australia

Telstra currently has coverage across 32 Australian cities and regional centers. To find out if Telstra 5G is available in your area, you can access their 5G maps here.

Telstra plans to expand its coverage to 35 cities mid-year, and earlier the year the telco announced it had already connected 100,000 devices to its 5G network.

So far, Telstra has the most 5G devices available, and the widest coverage in Australia. This makes the telco the frontrunner in the 5G race right now, but there are some points to note before you do:

  • First, although Telstra is currently allowing access to its 5G network at no additional cost, the telco will begin charging $15 per month for lower tier plans after 30 June of this year.
  • Second, Telstra prepaid customers currently don’t have access to 5G – its only available on postpaid plans.

But Telstra has some fast-moving plans for rolling out their 5G network:

  • The telco plans to launch its mmWave (millimeter Wave) spectrum later this year for a trial. While current 5G networks in Australia use 3.6 GHZ, a similar spectrum to 4G and 3G, this 26 GHz mmWave spectrum means even faster 5G speeds and even lower latency, for an even better 5G experience than current networks in Australia. And although the spectrum won’t be auctioned off to telcos until next year, Telstra will launch the mmWave-compatible 5G Wi-Fi Pro device later this year for a trial by customers.
  • Telstra has announced that it will move $500 million of its 5G capital expenditure budgeted for the second half of next year into this year. This is to accelerate its 5G rollout, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down the economy. Even as Australians stay home during the coronavirus outbreak, Telstra’s 5G coverage continues to grow, so expect even more availability when the lock downs are over.

Optus 5G availability in Australia

Optus has around 500 5G sites turned on. Last year, the telco set a goal of 1,200 sites to turned on this March but that doesn’t seem to have materialized.

However, Optus’ fixed home wireless 5G is already being accessed by around 138,000 homes. The telco’s fixed home wireless 5G plan is available in select areas, and offers unlimited data at guaranteed minimum speeds of 50Mbps (averages of 100Mbps) for $70 per month.

Here are some of Optus’ 5G bright spots:

  • Optus hasn’t announced any plans to charge customers additional fees to access its 5G network (except the aforementioned fixed home wireless broadband plan). So despite having thinner coverage areas than Telstra right now, the prospect of no extra charges for 5G is a strong point, even though the telco refuses to rule it out completely.
  • Like Telstra, Optus plans to trial mmWave 5G this year. However, its plans for making that a possibility aren’t as concrete as Telstra’s right now.
  • Optus was also the first to launch 2300MHz and 3500MHz dual band 5G in the country. This technology also boosts 5G speeds, putting Optus at the forefront even before any mmWave spectrum gets auctioned to telcos next year.
  • And Optus also has some 5G devices available, both for its fixed home wireless setup and smartphones for mobile 5G access.

Vodafone 5G availability in Australia

Vodafone spent the entire 2018 watching Telstra and Optus roll out their 5G networks across Australia. The telco was busy battling the ACCC to finalize its merger with TPG. The merger was finally granted by a federal judge earlier this year, leaving the telco to face its 5G goals.

Although Vodafone has been a late comer, here are the good spots on their 5G journey:

  • After the merger was allowed to move forward, Vodafone turned on its first 5G site in Parramatta this year.
  • The telco plans to turn on 650 5G sites in all state capitals as their rollout’s first phase, and even more should follow by mid-year.
  • Vodafone has indicated that customers won’t have to pay extra for 5G, and the telco already has a 5G device available.

Final words

Even with the coronavirus outbreak slowing down the economy, the 5G rollout continues in Australia. However, analysts have cut back on previous forecasts about 5G in Australia, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic as a negative factor. The fear is that consumers will lose their appetite for expensive, next generation gadgets like 5G handsets after the pandemic, because they simply won’t have the money for them.

The flip view, however, is that the stay-at-home phenomenon currently ongoing as a result of the outbreak could result in a new normal of even higher data use. Australians may become used to browsing at higher rates, and companies may implement more work-from-home plans, resulting in an increase in 5G demand for smoother access to data-hungry applications.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.