The 5G question is not if, but when. The initial signs from both industry and government are positive, but 5G rollout remains a considerable task, particularly for the Australian market, according to an Axicom white paper.

“Announcements earlier this year by Australia’s biggest carriers suggest the shift to 5G is accelerating and that the time scale for initial delivery looks more like the end of this decade than the start of the next.”

The white paper, 5G: How ready is Australia for the next generation?, examines some of the key stakeholders and timings involved in 5G in Australia.

Vendors are pushing 5G and the innovative use cases it allows, but many other players in Australia are considering their unique market challenges and how they can adapt, according to the Axicom research.

“Australia is a technology taker not a standard setter,” the authors write in the white paper.

“To leverage the benefits from economies of scale, we not only have to get our own spectrum and other regularity settings in order, we need to align them broadly with the global practices.”

Operators

Currently there are four carriers in Australia with 5G aspirations. Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and TPG have all signalled intentions to rollout a 5G network.

Optus says their network is expected to roll out in early 2019, while Telstra trialled 5G powered public wifi during this year’s Commonwealth Games. Vodafone says they too have been working on 5G for several years now.

TPG is building a new mobile network, which it says will provide a “platform for 5G services”. The new network has “optimal architecture” to take advantage of 5G elements when they are released to market, according to TPG.

Carriers, who shoulder much of the initial 5G investment burden, are understandably cautious with their 5G investments, according to the Axicom white paper, which found the opportunity in the Australian market is smaller than the US and Europe, and carriers face unique challenges.

“The market opportunity in Australia is of significantly less scale than in the US or Europe for instance, while market structure and capital funding options are also different,” the authors said.

Spectrum, infrastructure, and regulators

Carrier intentions will become clearer in October this year, when 125 MHz of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band goes under the hammer. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will auction off chunks of the spectrum to carriers, which is expected to enable 5G services in Australia.

However, the decision to use the 3.6GHz band – a global 5G standard, according to the Australian government – has drawn the ire of those already using the band. Wireless internet service providers argue the 5G band decision, which effectively shunts them off the spectrum, is “unfair” and a response to “pressure by the major Telcos”.

Senator Mitch Fifield stood by the government’s decision, arguing existing band 3.6GHz users have ample time (two years in metro areas and seven years in regional areas) to vacate the band.

As spectrum issues settle, much of the 5G debate will turn to infrastructure. According to the Axicom research, the “small cell” technology powering 5G creates issues around site access.

“Each small cell site requires permissions from landowners and/or local authorities, power and a backhaul link,” the authors said.

And while Australia has regulations mandating the access to private property by network operators, the regulations will need to be be developed for small cell infrastructure. A point the government has acknowledged.

“The Government is progressively working to modernise the regulatory architecture to ensure that the regulatory and policy settings flexibly respond to the current and future needs of the communications sector,” according to a Department of Communications and the Arts issues paper.

About the author

Joseph Brookes is a writer for the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit, of which Axicom is a Corporate Member. Our members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.

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