Australia’s much maligned National Broadband Network may actually benefit from the next generation of mobile networks. While often cited as a threat, 5G and its considerable infrastructure requirements may become an unlikely NBN ally, according to Cradlepoint Chief Architect, Roger Billings.

Billings argues the biggest challenge for 5G in Australia is the cost of its roll out. The small cell tower infrastructure powering 5G networks requires permissions from landowners and/or local authorities, power and a backhaul link at each site. And with a small and geographically challenging market, Australian operators are trying to justify the ROI of developing the necessary infrastructure.

According to Billings this is where the NBN comes in.

“I believe that NBN will actually help with this by allowing operators to place 5G infrastructure at the node vs. having to build out a whole fibre new network and add thousands of cell sites,” Billings told Which-50.

Piggybacking on the NBN infrastructure and partnering for more wireless sites would bring together two technologies often viewed as competitors, according to Billings.

“I think 5G will allow NBN to expand with wireless vs. using DSL.”

The infrastructure hump

A successful 5G roll out could fast track many of the innovative use cases promised by a new network with faster speeds and, importantly, much lower latency.

Cradlepoint Chief Architect, Roger Billings.

5G is touted as a driver for future smart cities, autonomous cars and Industry 4.0 including a wave of IoT devices. Much of the technology already exists but is under-utilised on current networks. 

However questions remain over the network’s business case because of the initial investment required.

Research from Axicom, a mobile network infrastructure provider, suggests the business case “remains opaque” and sharing infrastructure costs is a likely necessity. An analysis of public statements by executives from network operators by Bain and Company also revealed considerable apprehension about the short term returns of 5G. But, according to the consulting firm, the 5G pessimism is unwarranted.

Cradlepoint’s Billings, with 25 years’ experience in the field, agrees the potential is real. “I think the innovation that we will see with 5G will really be transformative across both enterprise and the consumer marketplace.

“There are some things that are more ‘Star Trek’ like, but overall the amount of bandwidth that will be available will spawn new companies and ideas – Think how 4G transformed the taxi industry with the advent of Uber and other ride-sharing applications.”

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