NBN Co is set to conduct its first 5G tests in Melbourne this week with its wireless technology partner, Ericsson, a move questioned by the Labor Opposition.
The tests will use 100 MHz of bandwidth in the national network builder’s current 3.5GHz spectrum assets on 5G New Radio equipment. 100 MHz of bandwidth is the current minimum amount of bandwidth required to launch 5G, as defined by the 3GPP standards.
“We really want to use these tests to find out more about the technology and how it can help us deliver better services to our Fixed Wireless end-users across Australia,” NBN Co chief technology officer, Ray Owen, said at the telecommunications industry’s CommsDay Summit in Sydney on 10 April.
“That being said we are certainly not done with 4G yet and we have a number of initiatives under way using next generation 4G technology such as MIMO to deliver an improved end-user experience on fixed wireless – but we absolutely want to look at what 5G will offer in the future to all Australians wherever they may live,” he said.
Fixed wireless has always played a part in the National Broadband Network’s (NBN) rollout, with the technology aimed at servicing areas unsuitable for fixed line access technology.
Indeed, the company behind the NBN rollout, NBN Co, currently operates in excess of 2,500 fixed wireless (macro sites) across Australia, providing LTE fixed wireless access to 225,000 end-users across the country.
However, the Federal Opposition has called on the Government to clarify NBN Co’s intentions with 5G technology, in light of the planned trials.
“Is NBN now planning to build a mobile network?” Labor’s Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, said in a statement. “Or is the company planning to build a metropolitan 5G network to bypass the $50 billion second-rate NBN the Turnbull Government has just built?
“If it is the latter, this is a clear admission the NBN engineering core consider parts of network currently being built are not fit for purpose,” she said. “The Turnbull Government needs to clarify its position today.”
However, Owen suggested that the company’s interest in 5G technology is largely in relation to NBN Co’s existing fixed wireless network, and is aimed at helping to further the organisation’s understanding of the technology and economics of a 5G upgrade path.
“We know that 5G will enable much faster speeds than 4G but at [NBN Co] we also know better than anyone about how much data end-users are consuming and some of the challenges on putting that data capacity onto fixed wireless network,” he said.
The 5G trials come after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) flagged concerns over how the introduction of higher speed wireless telecommunications technology, such as 5G, will have on NBN Co's existing business.
"For NBN Co there will be the threat from increasing substitution to wireless technologies but also the opportunity to use the new technology in its service provision," the ACCC said in a report released on 5 April.