Vodafone and 5G
While those of us looking on might consider Vodafone behind on their 5G rollout, that’s not how they’re selling their strategy. The Vodafone 5G page is focused on the pre-emptive steps the telco is taking before focusing on a full rollout.
With the first public mention of their 5G plans recently announced it seems that Vodafone will partner with Nokia for their 5G tech, that 5G will not cost extra for their customers, and that customers can expect the Vodafone 5G rollout to begin sometime in the coming months.
And taking it slow could prevent Vodafone being caught off-guard, as they have been before. In 2011, the company were branded “Vodafail” after their unsuccessful transition from 3G to 4G meant country-wide network issues that resulted in the loss of millions of customers.
The company were focusing on a merger with 3 network at the time, and the sudden surge in smartphone popularity in Australia left the company unable to meet the network requirements of their customers. The telco historically seems to be able to handle a single massive change or disruption, but adding a second factor doesn’t always play to Vodafone’s strengths.
That should be of concern to Vodafone, as they are currently negotiating a potential merger with TPG as well as beginning the 5G rollout, and these two massive undertakings are likely to stretch the company. However, it’s uncertain if the TPG merger will even happen, and the telco has had plenty of time to see 5G coming and prepare.
One massive advantage that the telco has is its wide reach. The company will be in the process of rolling out 5G in more than 30 countries, and their global operations unit can take the knowledge gained in one market and apply it elsewhere. While the other telcos are further ahead, Vodafone is taking it slow when it comes to releasing 5G to the public – perhaps with lessons learned in the past, the plan is to take their time until they are truly able to offer a public-ready 5G network.
5G Finally Mentioned
In this spirit, Vodafone have dragged their heels when it comes to publicly releasing information about their 5G plans. However, finally they have dropped details about their plans for their 5G rollout. Partnering with Nokia (as opposed to the controversial Huawei), Vodafone have planned their rollout for the first part of 2020.
Vodafone have made another revelation – they don’t intend to charge extra for 5G services, which will be welcome news for Vodafone customers. So far, 5G is free on the other networks (in the few locations that it’s available), but that might not be the case for very long.
Optus have not revealed whether 5G will cost more in the future, but Telstra have already announced plans to charge an additional $15 a month for access to 5G. Vodafone’s assertion that customers with a 5G compatible device will be able to switch between 4G and 5G networks as necessary during the rollover without incurring additional charges seems to show they have learned from their past mistakes.
The Tortoise and the Hare
After Vodafone became the first telco in Australia to showcase a live public 5G trial that reached speeds of 5Gbps, Optus and Telstra have forged ahead, competing with a range of ‘firsts’ that left Vodafone behind.
However in this case, we could find that the ‘slow and steady’ strategy works in Vodafone’s favour. While Optus and Telstra have technically already switched on 5G for their customers, service is extremely patchy and limited to just a few suburbs only in a few major cities, making 5G functionally useless for most customers.
Even when 5G is available the service is not meeting the expectation of early adopters, with the promised lightning-fast speeds and near-zero latency not yet forthcoming. The signal strength is also cause for concern, with 5G having serious limitations such as not working indoors.
According to their website, Vodafone are focussing on updating their network, potentially merging with TPG to increase their reach, and their latest announcement shows that their plans to get 5G live are underway. The decision on whether the TPG merger will go ahead is expected to be announced in February, and as Vodafone have announced their plans to switch on their first 5G site in ‘coming months’ it looks likely they’ll await the decision before making their plans public.
By the time 5G reaches Vodafone customers, the service could be smoother and reach further than the other networks were able to provide at a similar stage of development, providing a better experience for those who have chosen to invest in 5G-capable technology. That their customers can use the service for free is an even greater enticement.
Optus and Telstra have a far bigger head start, but if Vodafone can utilise their global experience, learn from past mistakes, and especially if the TPG merger goes ahead, there’s every possibility that they can catch up and give the other telcos a run for their money.