Telstra launches 5G Innovation Centre

Telstra has signalled the expansion of 5G trials with the launch of its 5G Innovation Centre, which will complement its 5G testing centre and trial network on the Gold Coast.

Telstra has launched a 5G Innovation Centre on the Gold Coast, saying it will allow the telco to undertake trials alongside startups, tech vendors, developers, and enterprise customers in preparation for commercial deployment.

These trials will include use cases across smart cities, smart homes, drones, autonomous vehicles, and augmented reality, according to COO Robyn Denholm, with Telstra adding that it will carry out further 5G field trials over the next few months "in and around the Gold Coast" ahead of the meeting of international standards body 3GPP there in September.

"Telstra has already conducted Australia's first 5G field trial and the world's first 5G outdoor data call over 26GHz 'mmWave' radiofrequency spectrum. From our new 5G Innovation Centre, we will be completing a number of 5G firsts in 2018 to ensure Australia remains at the forefront of mobile technology," Denholm said.

"We look forward to hosting leading 5G developers from around the world so Australian businesses can begin developing products and services that will take advantage of 5G. Our activities at the Innovation Centre will culminate in the 3GPP meeting later in 2018 that will play a critical role in setting the 5G standards underpinning the launch of commercial services."

Telstra is expecting to see tests show 5G speeds of around 3Gbps download/300Mbps upload using millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum.

The centre, which is located at its Southport Exchange, is part of Telstra's AU$60 million investment in upgrading infrastructure on the Gold Coast due to upcoming "major events" -- the city is hosting the Commonwealth Games in April -- and increasing demand for network capacity.

This AU$60 million is itself part of a AU$5 billion investment in the telco's network in the three years to June 30, 2019.

Australia's incumbent telco will use the launch of its centre to showcase on Monday how 5G can improve several use cases, including a 5G-connected vehicle driven via a VR headset; how artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled drones can support surf lifesaving; how 5G beamforming technology can operate individual drones as part of a swarm; and how 5G could enable robotic arms to carry out precise industrial applications.

See also: Telstra CEO: 2018 will be big for 5G

Telstra had similarly launched a 5G testing centre on the Gold Coast back in November, at the time also announcing the completion of the world's first 5G data call using 26GHz mmWave spectrum on Telstra's production core network.

The centre's location was chosen due to Telstra's intention to run a trial 5G network during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.

Telstra said it would work with network partner Ericsson on key 5G technologies including Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (Massive MIMO), adaptive beamforming and beam tracking, and OFDM-based waveforms in its Gold Coast centre.

Ericsson and Telstra had achieved download speeds of between 18Gbps and 22Gbps during the first live trial of 5G in Australia back in September 2016, with the trials conducted in a real-world outdoor environment using Ericsson's 5G radio testbed, Massive MIMO, and beamforming.

Telstra then announced a year ago that it would be conducting 5G new radio (NR) trials across Australia during the second half of 2017 ahead of an accelerated deployment in partnership with Ericsson.

CEO Andy Penn had told ZDNet last month that 2018 would bring wide-scale trials across the globe, along with further standardisation and spectrum allocation, adding that Telstra has only physical implementation and chipset aspects remaining in its preparation work for the extensive 5G trial on the Gold Coast.

"We've orchestrated the spectrum availability; we have effectively signed up the arrangements with the equipment manufacturer, which is Ericsson that we're trialling it with, and so it's pretty well advanced," Penn told ZDNet during CES 2018 last month.

"It's just some actual physical implementation of infrastructure we have to put in place [and] we've got to work with chipset manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Intel in terms of making sure the 5G chipsets are available, and also some of the equipment manufacturers of handsets to make sure we've got those ready as well."

Telstra will be using both 3.6GHz spectrum and mmWave spectrum for the trials, with the chief executive hoping the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will bring the 3.6GHz spectrum auction up even earlier than September 2018.

"We are specifically licensing spectrum arrangements for the trials," he told ZDNet.

While Telstra is not a sponsor of the Commonwealth Games, Penn had said the dynamics of the event means there will be the traffic and media interest to launch a wide-scale 5G trial on the Gold Coast at that time.

"I think that realistically, that all coming together, 2018's going to be a big year," he said.

"It will only be at the very end of 2018, but it's feasible absolutely there will be commercial rollouts from 2019, and Telstra's position has always been to be at the forefront of technology innovation, and so you should assume that we will be a leader."

Penn told ZDNet that Telstra remains in ongoing discussions with Ericsson on its 5G network deployment, and is doing trials with a number of companies. Pointing out that there are only five companies involved in 5G networking technology -- Samsung, ZTE, Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei -- Penn told ZDNet the telco is in discussions with all of them in relation to 5G.

Rival operator Optus last week announced that it will begin rolling out its own 5G network in 2019.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of Telstra

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