Optus and Telstra have been the biggest players in the race to roll out a viable 5G network across Australia, with each achieving national and even international records in a bid to attract customer attention.
While there is some coverage in different areas in Australia, the latest push from Optus is in the area of 5G compatible devices. It will certainly be a selling point for early adopters of new technology but with 5G coverage still in the initial stages, getting a 5G device could be a premature move for impatient customers.
Optus and 5G
Optus have been keeping up with Telstra with the development and the roll out of the latest generation network. One of their most publicised wins was making 5G available in a few select areas during the Gold Coast Commonwealth games – although without 5G compatible devices, it was mostly for show.
Since then, around 200 sites have been switched on around Australia, with each state having a number of pockets where 5G is now available. The Optus website offers a map of the locations where 5G is available.
At this stage of development, the network has some limitations. If a 5G compatible device goes out of range of a 5G network, it will simply switch to the 4G network. However, on the fringes of 5G coverage, there can be locations where the 5G signal is not strong enough to support fast connections, but is present and therefore blocks the phone from changing to 4G.
Another disclaimer is around the use of the phone indoors – so far, both Optus and Telstra are not confident about the strength of the 5G signal in buildings. In time, the network signal will be boosted by using small cell solutions to support larger telecommunications infrastructure, and doubtless these will be included as part of the anticipated 1,200 5G sites.
As these new sites are switched on, they will be targeted at areas that are identified as key customer hotspots, such as public transport stations, sports stadiums, airports and locations in the CBDs. The ultimate aim will be to join these spots together until the whole major urban area is blanketed in 5G coverage. Until that time, customers will have to get used to their devices swapping between 5G and 4G as necessary.
The 5G Handsets
5G roll out and making 5G compatible handsets available is a “chicken and the egg” situation – a 5G compatible device is unlikely to sell without the network available, but 5G is not much use without a device that can access the updated network.
Eyes were on the latest Apple iPhone release, with those in the know unsure about whether 5G compatibility would be one of the features on offer. Ultimately, Apple decided to put off releasing a 5G capable device until the networks are more reliable.
Apple has a reputation for innovation and attracting trend-setters, so its decision to leave 5G compatibility off the list of updated features was significant. However, there will always be a cohort of very early adopters eager to be among the first to make use of the most significant upgrade to mobile technology for many years.
Optus is now offering the Samsung Galaxy S10, the Oppo Reno and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 in 5G compatible versions that will be able to make use of whatever coverage the network can currently offer.
The Future of Optus
Of course, these handsets are just the beginning for Australian 5G. Finally, the pieces are beginning to come together – more sites are going live, and 5G plans along with compatible devices are on sale.
Optus are continuing to focus on rolling out their 5G network, with almost 200 sites already live. Their stated goal is to have 1,200 5G cell sites up and running by March 2020.
Recently, Optus have partnered with Service Stream for mobile deployment of their 5G network. Service stream will be working with Optus in the areas of site acquisition, design and construction services, allowing Optus to extend their reach and improve their service. Optus have also partnered with Nokia to get some sites up and running, with Nokia supplying the 5G RAN and Fastmile 5G CPEs.
5G broadband is another area that has been the subject of press releases by the company, along with a promised 50mbps promise – any customer who experiences speeds of less than 50 mbps can end their contract with no cancellation costs. This offer is another example of how confident the company are in the speeds and consistently improved service that they will be able to offer with a 5G network.
Moving Forward with 5G
However, all these benefits are mostly still in the future. While the company is making strides towards providing extensive 5G coverage across Australia, as yet there are only pockets of sporadic coverage in limited areas. Any new technology takes time to get established – especially a national upgrade to a vastly improved network covering most of Australia. Now Optus is making 5G devices available alongside their 5G plans, the roll out is truly picking up steam. For most of us, however, it’s probably better to wait.