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The rollout of 5G in Australia is expected to require huge investment by operators such as Vodafone and TPG, who are Australia’s 3rd and 4th largest telecommunications companies1. Any merger could significantly lower the barrier into the 5G market, and strengthen Vodafone’s competitiveness against operators like Telstra and Optus.
Even if the merger is knocked back by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)2, Vodafone and TPG plan to bid together for new spectrum space later this year, strengthening their position against the bigger operators3.
Vodafone has committed to invest in the rollout of Australia’s 5G network and will build its own rival network4.
In partnership with Finnish manufacturer Nokia, Vodafone performed a 5G demonstration earlier this year to help customers imagine what’s to come in the near future5. The trial showcased two important qualities 5G will have: high data speed and ultra-low latency.
The data speed demo saw a Nokia 5G-powered virtual reality camera stream 4K video content to a 42-inch screen. Vodafone’s demo showed off the transmission of eight simultaneous streams of VR content, while achieving speeds of up to 1.5Gbps, and a possible full speed of around 4.5Gbps5.
The joint 5G demo highlighted the future opportunities that 5G will open up to many different industries and the general public. 5G will empower something as simple as streaming 4K video on demand, or operating a machine remotely.
Vodafone began its 5G journey several years ago6. Just as the transition from 2G to 3G and then to 4G wasn’t about flicking a switch, the deployment of 5G began with a complex series of upgrades across the existing 4G network.
The first of these upgrades was delivered in 2015 when Vodafone laid 4,000 kilometres of ‘dark fibre’, fibre optic cable that isn’t necessarily used today, but plans for higher traffic and network capacity in the future. The increase to Vodafone’s transmission network via new dark fibre will help the network handle the exciting applications of 5G, with higher capacity and lower latency.
In preparation for 5G readiness, Vodafone has also moved its network on to the cloud6, allowing it to be more agile in responding to the technological advancements and deliver a better user experience.
Back in February, Vodafone partnered with Huawei to complete the world’s first 5G call7, using a non-standalone new radio standard on the sub 6GHz spectrum.
The call was made on a test network in Spain just before the World Mobile Congress, to demonstrate a 5G data connection between two test devices. This is a significant step towards Vodafone’s rollout of 5G in Australia, because the demonstration tested all the end-to-end elements of a 5G call including data connection.
Vodafone’s major hurdle to the deployment of its 5G network is in the limited availability of bandwidth available for use6. 5G operates within the 3.4-3.7 GHz band, meaning there’s only a total of 300 MHz of spectrum technically available.
Optus has already snapped up half of this capacity, leaving very little for the other players like Vodafone and Telstra.
According to Vodafone Chief Strategy Officer, Dan Lloyd, the Federal Government needs to open up more spectrum for telcos to purchase6. By comparison, the United States Government is planning to make 11,000Mhz of Spectrum available.
Vodafone is continuing trials with its partner Nokia, together they’re planning the rollout of their 5G network throughout Australia.
Along with the other big telcos, Vodafone is busy securing spectrum to run its 5G network8. Vodafone is competing with the likes of Telstra and Optus for spectrum on the 3.6 GHz band. The Federal Government has placed allocation limits on how much spectrum a telco can buy, in order to increase competition amongst operators building 5G networks in Australia.
Vodafone is also working on the international standard for 5G6, ensuring that, as 5G networks rollout across different countries, each network is inter-operable by following the same standards.