Australia is gearing up for the imminent arrival of 5G technology, with telecommunications companies beginning to trial and introduce new systems ahead of a planned 2020 rollout.
Developed as part of an international digital transformation, 5G represents a significant leap from the capabilities of previous generations of wireless communications, introducing a range of technological possibilities that have many experts warning of potential health risks.
In the following, Ethan Nash details the pending arrival of 5G technologies in Australia.
5G is the next step in the evolution of mobile wireless communications technology, promising improved connectivity, greater network speeds and bandwidth, and very low latency.
It is the fifth generation in mobile technology which, at each step, has seen significant developments in communications networks:
- 1G — The first generation of mobile phone networks were deployed in the early 1980s, providing a basic voice service using analogue transmission.
- 2G — In 1991, second generation networks were deployed, switching to digital standards with improved voice messaging and the introduction of the short message service (SMS).
- 3G — The third generation launched in 2001 and introduced data services in addition to voice and SMS.
- 4G — In 2009, the fourth generation protocol, Long Term Evolution (LTE), was introduced, supporting improved mobile broadband which saw increased capacity and speed for data.
5G networks will deliver mobile speeds theoretically fast enough to download 600 feature films a minute, and will also offer up to 50 times the bandwidth currently available on 4G networks.
Initially, 5G will be used to carry data traffic in high-usage areas such as central business districts (CBDs), shopping malls, transport hubs, and sporting venues, where 4G networks are under strain.
From there, it will spread to rural communities, until it has covered entire nations.
Last year, the world’s leading authority on mobile networks, GSMA Intelligence, predicted 5G would cover a third of the world’s population, or one in eight mobile connections, by the year 2025.
There is already significant work underway globally with several countries trialling 5G, but standards for this new generation technology are yet to be finalised.
Chip manufacturing company Qualcomm recently announced it had successfully achieved a 5G data connection on a 5G modem chipset for mobile devices.
Currently, only four companies supply 5G equipment and services, two from China and two from Scandinavia. None of the companies at the forefront of 5G development belong to the “Five Eyes“.
The formal, international process to define 5G is led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communications technologies.
This process is known as IMT-2020, with the ITU coordinating world frequency spectrum allocation frameworks to harmonise international spectrum guidelines, ensuring networks and connected devices can communicate seamlessly.
The ITU will undertake the formal, international process to identify bands for 5G by 2020.
It has developed draft technical specifications for 5G, which include:
- High data rates | 1 Gbps for hotspots, 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload.
- Massive connectivity | 1 million connections per square kilometre.
- Ultra-low latency | 1 millisecond.
- High reliability | 99.999% for mission critical ‘ultra-reliable’ communications.
- Mobility at high speeds | up to 500 km/h i.e. high speed trains.
Seizing on this, the Australian government wants to create an environment that allows the telecommunications industry to be at the forefront of reaping the benefits of 5G across the economy, and has been underway implementing a number of strategies.
In Australia, the communications sector will lead the rollout of 5G networks in Australia, and the government will subsequently create policies and regulatory environments to support in alignment with other countries, given its potential benefits to the economy.
According to the document, the rollout of 5G in Australia will “enable the next wave of productivity and innovation across different sectors of the Australian economy”.
The direction will be to support 5G technologies in Australia, including making the 5G spectrum available in a timely manner, actively engaging in the international process, allowing mobile carriers to deploy infrastructure and reviewing existing telecommunications regulatory arrangements.
The high-speed mobile phone network is likely to be operational in Australia from 2020, according to the plans, to support the collective introduction of the 5G technologies across the world.
The government will put in place its new spectrum management framework by 2019, and the ACMA will continue to work on making spectrum available for 5G, investigating the use of 1.5GHz and 3.6GHz and high frequency mmWave bands.
In the final NBN report, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) calculated that 5G had a maximum speed of a whopping 10,000 megabits per second – about 300 times faster than the typical home connection.
5G is likely to play an important role in the future of the National Broadband Network, with NBN Co. already owning a chunk of the 3.5 GHz spectrum, which it acquired from the Australian Communications and Media Authority at market rates in 2014.
CURRENT 5G TRIALS
The 5G network is expected to be rolled out nationwide in 2020, around the same time the NBN is expected to complete its rollout, with early 5G access in key metro areas from 2019.
5G trials have already commenced in Australia, with each of the main carriers working with mobile equipment suppliers in testing the application and limits of the technology.
These trials will continue and will inform the communications sector on how 5G can be effectively deployed for the Australian environment.
Last year, the 5G race between telecommunications companies began, with both Telstra and Optus undertaking testing of the technology.
TELSTRA IS READY
Telstra has been working on equipment standards and future spectrum needs with regulators and manufacturers, and is ready to introduce 5G technology when the government finalises plans.
Telstra is planning a 5G mobile service that will be able to support both sub 6 GHz and mmWave spectrum in the future, running its first 5G field trial on the Gold Coast in September 2016 to offering a glimpse of what consumers will receive when it comes online.
Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer, Philip Jones, spoke on the significance of the trials:
“This is the first 5G trial on Australian soil, and the outdoor nature of the test has provided a true sense of what 5G will be able to offer customers once it is launched commercially.”
Shortly after, Telstra launched the ‘5G Innovation Centre’ on the Gold Coast, including the world’s first precinct of 5G-enabled Wi-Fi hotspots, Australia’s first 5G Connected Car, and the world’s first end-to-end 5G non-standalone data call on a commercial mobile network.
Following this, Telstra announced it had switched on 5G technology across selected areas of the Gold Coast, making it the first telecommunications provider in the country to be 5G ready.
Telstra detailed signed deals with certain smartphone manufacturers to bring new 5G phones “exclusively” to its 5G mobile network in the first half of the year.
Telstra’s 5G network readiness means as soon as compatible 5G commercial devices are made available by the mobile handset and device manufacturers, our network is ready to receive them.
Optus have also successfully completed 5G network trials in Australia, achieving the fastest speeds observed of a single user transmission over 5G in Australia so far.
Following this, Optus successfully commenced a trial of the technology in Newcastle in 2017, which employed 4.5G technology, the organisations’ precursor to 5G speeds.
Optus announced they will begin rolling out a 5G fixed network this year in selected metro areas, following successful trials with speeds 15 times faster than current technologies.
Optus have launched a live 5G site in Sydney, and 47 more sites are planned to be online in 2019.
Optus Chief Executive, Allen Lew, spoke on the 5G capability announcement:
“This is an historic day for Optus as we begin our exciting 5G journey with the announcement of Optus’ 5G Home Broadband service.
We will have more 5G sites going live across Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Sydney over the coming months giving a select group of customers the chance to get their hands on our 5G Home Broadband devices in areas of selected suburbs.”
Optus confirmed to journalists that the company is currently working with all five major 5G networking vendors – Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE, and Samsung – during its trials.
Vodafone have also joined the 5G party in Australia, already announced that it would commence trials of 5G networking in 2016.
During initial trials, conducted in partnership with the telco’s 5G technology partner Nokia, the company recorded clocking speeds of 5 Gbps over 200 MHz of spectrum in its first local live recordings of the technology.
Along with the rollout of the 5G wireless network, you will see devices from the likes of Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, LG and HTC. As usual, Apple hasn’t publicly announced any plans for 5G devices.
Furthermore, the government has convened a 5G working group between industry representatives to work towards a 2020 rollout, with many of the major mobile manufacturers announcing plans to produce 5G phones later in 2019.
As 5G networks mature, they will support the widespread and dense deployment of sensors and other network-connected devices, raising concerns about the health implications of providing ‘flexible coverage’ across different spectrum bands.
Mobile phone networks and other wireless telecommunications sources emit low-level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) and some members of the public have some concerns of adverse health effects.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio frequency radiation – at levels that comply with international standards – as a Class 2B carcinogen, in the same category as lead.
The agency concluded the radiation was “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in their findings, with one study of past cell phone use showing a 40% increased risk for glioma tumours in the highest category of heavy phone users – 30 minutes per day, over a 10‐year period.
To achieve high speeds, 5G will use higher frequencies than 4G. These frequencies don’t travel as far, so the entire network will have to sit closer together, according to the government:
“5G will require radically different structures of networks if it is to achieve successful deployment in Australia.
As 5G will likely utilise different frequencies, new equipment will be necessary. Additionally, the higher frequency 5G spectrum can only travel a small distance and will need more cells to ensure adequate coverage. However, antennas and equipment will be smaller, making it easier to attach these cells to existing infrastructure such as street lights and buildings.”
Mike Wright, Telstra’s managing Director of Networks, said the technology arriving in Australia has been designed by Europeans for densely populated countries:
“We discovered that the way [5G] was being written, we were going to be limited to tens of kilometres for some features…”
Telstra was forced to adapt the technologies to cover our vast, sparsely populated landscape, including funding research into whether uniquely Australian obstacles – including flora – will disrupt 5G signals and occupy a higher frequency range.
David Mercer from the University of Wollongong said mobile phones had never been established to be safe from radiation effects:
“My biggest concern is that there hasn’t been much research done on the biological effects on high frequency technologies such as 5G.”
Other countries are issuing statements or legislation to encourage the reduction of 5G exposure.
This includes Brussels becoming the first major city in the world to halt 5G development due to health concerns and Vaud in Switzerland adopting a resolution for a moratorium.
It will increase competition from overseas workers and, through the use of the technology, will interconnect the world in a way not seen since the birth of globalism.
It’s likely that by 2023, most developed markets in the world will have access to 5G, according to Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2018.
Are you ready for the next step of the Fourth-Industrial Revolution (FIR) in Australia?