Telstra and Ericsson eye 5G

Telstra and Ericsson have kicked off Mobile World Congress by announcing faster 4G, LTE Broadcast, VoLTE, and plans to explore 5G.

Telstra and Ericsson will form a partnership to test 5G, as Australia's largest telecommunications provider ramps up its 4G network.

The two companies announced the new agreement at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Sunday. Telstra's group managing director of networks Mike Wright said that the two companies will work together and test out 5G as the standards and technologies are developed over the next five years.

"5G isn't completely defined yet, but it needs a lot of thinking around the standards.We'll be a 5G test lead with Ericsson," Wright said.

Ericsson and Telstra will be working together on 3GPP standards, with Telstra to deploy some staff members in the Ericsson offices in Sweden later this year to work on a 5G radio test bed, and ultimately run a 5G test bed in Australia.

Wright said that while 5G will offer higher speeds than even 4G, the benefits of 5G are more about helping meet the growing demands of devices connected to the network that may not be end-user devices such as phones.

"What needs to happen when you have many millions of devices on the network that are connected things instead of people," he said.

There will be a focus on speed, latency, capacity, coverage, and power consumption, Ericsson Australia and New Zealand Head Hakan Eriksson said.

With many smaller devices being connected and not always active, such as sensors, Eriksson said networks that require lower power consumption for the devices they connect to will be key for 5G.

Telstra will also advance the capability of its 4G network, with plans to begin delivering category 9 devices -- that use three LTE channels across 700MHz and 2600MHz for speeds of up to 450Mbps -- from April this year. The first will be a Wi-Fi hotspot provided by Netgear, and Telstra's head of products Warwick Bray said that Telstra will be working with device manufacturers to get more hotspots, tablets, and handsets compatible with the new networks.

"We expect to bring a Cat-9 smartphone to the market by the end of the year," he said.

The company said it has seen up to 600Mbps speeds in trials. At the same time, Telstra is also bringing in more Cat-6 devices into the market, and will be conducting a voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) trial in April, before bringing it online later this year.

Bray said that there are 10 smartphones available in Australia compatible with VoLTE, but that they would require a software upgrade before they are usable.

Wright said that moving voice over to 4G from 3G would be important as more customers shift to 4G. Fifty percent of the traffic on Telstra's network is now 4G.

Despite the arrival of 5G in 2020, however, Wright said he believes that 3G will still be around.

Telstra will also deploy LTE Broadcast (LTE-B), first working with stadiums for streaming video content, and then looking to deploy LTE-B for rolling out software updates to handsets.

"Our plan of attack is we're going to permanently activate from May this year from LTE Broadcast channels," Wright said.

"We'll start with activating special event channels."

Wright said that Telstra has no plans to use LTE to broadcast Foxtel or other traditional broadcast services at this point, but said that Telstra will use the initial trials of LTE-B to determine the best uses of the technology.

Telstra and Ericsson will also establish a Centre of Excellence for Programmable Networks to explore advances in the network core in parallel with 5G, using software-defined networking and network function virtualisation. The centre will be established in Telstra's innovation centre in Melbourne.

Josh Taylor travelled to Barcelona as a guest of Ericsson.

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