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Australia declares 2021 the ‘year of 5G’

  • Australia’s government has scheduled allocations of both high-band and low-band spectrum for use by 5G services
  • It is set to benefit smart farming, robotics, telemedicine, and automated vehicles, thus increasing Australia’s productivity
  • 5G is forecast to add up to US$2,000 in GDP per person after the first decade of the rollout

Joining a handful of other countries, Australia will be able to enjoy extremely fast and high-capacity services beginning next year as the Federal Government will auction not one but two 5G spectrums. A high band 5G spectrum (in the 26 GHz band) will be allocated in April 2021 followed by a low band 5G spectrum (in the 850/900 MHz band) in the second half of the year, which will be crucial for broader geographic coverage of 5G services.

According to Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, the low and high band 5G spectrum will complement the mid-band 5G spectrum that the Government has already auctioned.

“Low band spectrum can carry the 5G mobile signal longer distances and is best for wide coverage indoors and outside. The mid-band spectrum provides broad coverage and fast speeds and the high band spectrum will allow blazing fast speeds over shorter distances. We are making the low, mid, and high bands available so that the telcos can provide better, faster, and stronger 5G in Australia,” Fletcher said.

In brief, 5G, the next generation of wireless mobile connectivity, will deliver speeds significantly faster than 4G and at much lower latency, which could deliver enhanced applications in smart farming, robotics, telemedicine, and automated vehicles, in turn, increases Australia’s productivity. In fact, Fletcher forecast 5G would add up to US$2,000 in gross domestic product per person after the first decade of the rollout.

What does it mean for the telco players?

Currently, Australia’s top two telcos Telstra and Optus have already covered some parts of the country with 5G, with the extent of coverage being a point of contention between the two all the time. Most recently, Australian carrier Telstra said it has already deployed over 2,000 5G base stations in the country, providing 5G coverage to 41% of Australia’s population.

The telco said it aims to cover 75% of the country’s population with its 5G service by June 2021. Telstra, which had launched 5G in May last year, is currently using its spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band to provide 5G technology across Australia. Telstra offers its 5G service are Canberra, Central Coast, Brisbane, Sidney, Cairns, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Hamilton, Melbourne, and Perth.

Even in May of this year, Telstra upgraded its 5G radio access network (RAN) coverage footprint across Australia, connecting a cloud-native 5G Core (5GC) network to handle new 5G standalone traffic. Telstra used equipment from Swedish vendor Ericsson for the network upgrade. The 5G upgrade means that Telstra already has the capability to run 5G technology independent of existing 4G network technology.

Meanwhile, rival operator Optus had launched commercial mobile 5G operations in 2019. Optus’ 5G network had 900 live sites and was available to more than 426,000 households across Australia as of the end of August. In July, Optus announced it was testing 5G mmWave technology in partnership with Ericsson. 

Later in August, TPG Telecom announced plans to accelerate its 5G rollout over the next 12 months, with over 85% of the population in the country’s six largest cities expected to be served by the end of next year. The company, which was formed through the merger of TPG and Vodafone Hutchison Australia earlier this year, said in its full-year results that more than 1,200 sites 5G sites had now entered the planning phase. The six cities where 5G will be initially available according to TPG Telecom are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra.


5G will bring download speeds of up to 10Gbps, which is 10 times higher than the highest package on offer on the fiber-to-the-premises NBN. At the moment, however, 5G speeds are currently trailing below 4G speeds in Australia, according to market analysis site OpenSignal.

That is, in part, because it is still a fairly new technology that hasn’t been rolled out in many locations, but also because companies in Australia are not using the higher spectrum band, which would offer much higher speeds.