Huawei ban hinders Australia’s 5G plan
At the end of last year, Australia’s communications agency allocated 5G spectrum to four major telecoms, raising nearly AUD 853 million ($615.6 million) after selling 350 available spectrum lots.
Dense Air Australia won 29 lots for AUD 18.49 million; Mobile JV, the joint venture of TPG Telecom and Vodafone Hutchison Australia, won 131 lots for AUD 263.2 million; Optus, the country’s second-largest telecom, won 47 lots for AUD 185 million; and Telstra, the country’s largest telecom, won 143 lots for AUD 386 million.
A few months before this, the government of Australia developed a paper designed to support a timely rollout of the next-gen technology, and among other things, outlined a 5G policy for the country. However, the government’s August 2019 decision to ban the use of equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies in Australia’s 5G networks may have knocked the country’s 5G plans slightly off course.
How the Huawei ban impacted 5G in Australia
The Australian government cites the risk of losing control of infrastructure as motivation for its decision to ban Huawei equipment. Authorities were concerned that if power networks and other critical infrastructure relied solely on Huawei technology, it would give Beijing the ability to shut those systems down.
However, as the result of the ban, TPG, who was using Huawei equipment to build its mobile network, had to abandon its 5G build, costing the telecom around $144 million. TPG’s ability to rollout new infrastructure would have certainly improved Australia’s position in the 5G game by providing much needed competition to Telstra and Optus, which significantly lead the market.
Further, very little has been heard from Dense Air Australia about its 5G progress.
Telstra and Optus, who rely on Ericsson or Nokia or a combination of both, are continuing to move forward with 5G rollouts. According to Ookla’s 5G map, Australia has 12 5G sites, two operated by Optus and 10 operated by Telstra.
Telstra has been operating 5G-enabled sites across Australia since August 2018, making it the country’s first 5G-ready carrier. However, its commercial offers were not announced until May 2019. Now, the telecom has commercial 5G coverage in 10 regions across the country, including parts of Perth, Melbourne and the Gold Coast, with rollouts expected to increase to at least 35 cities over the next 12 months.
Telstra has stated that the Huawei ban in August has not posed a serious problem for the company, due largely to its partnership with Ericsson, whose technology, Telstra claims, is developed to the same level as Huawei’s. In fact, last month, Telstra and Ericsson completed the Australia’s first end-to-end standalone 5G call. Börje Ekholm, president and CEO, Ericsson, claims that Ericsson and Telstra’s collaborative efforts will propel Australia to the cutting edge of 5G mobile technology.
The call, which was completed via the 3.6GHz spectrum using a forthcoming commercial chipset, took place at Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre on the Gold Coast, which the company uses to test next-generation technologies to support the early commercial deployment of 5G mobile services in Australia.
Telstra currently offers 5G on the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, the Oppo Reno 5G and the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and 10+ 5G.
According to the telecom’s website, the next 5G space that Telstra plans to tackle next is banking, where it is working on bringing the power and speed of 5G to banking through 5G ‘edge computing’ trials.
Optus, the second largest telecommunications company in Australia and a subsidiary of Singaporean company Singtel, currently offers limited 5G service in parts of Canberra and Sydney with initial launches focused on 5G home broadband.
Its mobile device offerings are much less impressive than Telstra’s. In early August, however, the telecom confirmed that it will begin carrying the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and 10+ 5G, with shipments beginning in September. The company also revealed at this year’s Mobile World Congress that will be getting the Oppo Reno 5G.
Optus plans to deliver 1,200 5G sites across the ACT, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia by March 2020, and in February 2019, signed a partnership with Ericsson to deploy 50 5G sites across the cities of Sydney and Melbourne as part of Optus’ multi-vendor rollout.
Optus originally worked with Huawei during its initial 5G home broadband trials, but ultimately switched to Nokia following Australia’s decision to ban the Chinese vendor. Nokia and Optus finalized a deal in January in which the Finnish electronics company will supply the telecom with its 5G RAN and Fastmile 5G CPEs.
Comparing 5G in Australia to the rest of the world
OpenSignal’s analysis of device-based data collected between April 1 and June 30 from eight countries, concluded that 5G speeds overall were “dramatically higher” than currently available peak download speeds on 4G networks. The U.S. proved to have the fasted speeds, with users experiencing peak 5G download speeds of 1.8 Gbps, followed by Switzerland, with 5G peak speeds of 1.14 Gbps.
Australia’s 5G speeds, however, produced an interesting result. Of the countries measured, it is the only one where the maximum speed experienced by 4G users was so fast — close to the theoretical best performance of 4G — that the maximum 5G speed was actually slightly slower than the maximum 4G speed. While this result highlights the country’s impressive 4G, it doesn’t do much to instill hope about its 5G prospects.
However, OpenSignal pointed out that as far as 5G goes, it is still early days, and the company expects 5G speeds to continue to get faster.
“This is just the start of the 5G era and the market is moving quickly,” Ian Fogg, VP analysis, wrote in a summary of the report. “More 5G services will launch using more spectrum and wider channels — there are few 5G services currently using 5G’s ideal 100 MHz channel size — and 5G technology evolves to be able to combine the performance of multiple 5G channels and bands together to boost both the maximum and average 5G speeds and further improve the mobile user experience of 5G users.”
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