Huawei ban did not impact Optus 5G launch: CEO

The federal government banning Huawei from taking part in 5G did not slow down or make Optus’ 5G deployment more expensive, the telco's CEO Allen Lew has told ZDNet.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Optus CEO Allen Lew has denied that the Huawei 5G ban had an impact on his carrier's new mobile network rollout, telling ZDNet that it neither slowed it down nor made equipment more expensive.

Speaking with ZDNet at the launch of Optus' 5G site in Dickson, Canberra, on Thursday, Lew said the decision handed down by the federal government in August 2018 to not allow Chinese networking companies to take part in Australia's 5G deployments did not hinder the telco's competitive bidding process.

"At Optus, we've always had a multi-vendor strategy, and secondly Optus is part of a bigger group called the Singtel Group. Having a multi-vendor strategy allows us not to just rely on one vendor; we have a lot of different vendors, and we put them to a competitive bid," Lew said.

"We've as a result put them to a competitive bid and been able to get the pricing that we need in order to offer this service at what we call exceptional value for Australians, and yet make a reasonable margin so that our shareholders feel Optus can get a reasonable return on the business."

According to Lew, Optus had a target price, and was able to achieve that thanks to competition amongst the remaining vendors -- "despite the fact that Huawei is not allowed to provide 5G services in this country".

Although the chief executive continually pointed to a multi-vendor approach, and with both Huawei and ZTE out of the picture, he would not say whether Optus is working with Ericsson and Samsung on its future 5G launch sites.

On the smartphone side, Lew told ZDNet that Optus is working with all smartphone manufacturers, and expects to see 5G phones in the May/June window.

With most of the first 50 launch sites for Optus' 5G network located in regional areas, Lew also pointed to the rollout being nationwide.

"We have to connect some of these smaller areas before we move on to the bigger cities," the chief executive explained.

Lew said Optus is confident that with the 5G technology being delivered by its infrastructure partners, including the enhanced active antennas on its cell towers and the new home device, it will be able to deliver a high-speed home broadband service.

Lew said customers will see download speeds of between 50Mbps and 100Mbps.

"We are the first carrier in Australia, and perhaps even in the world, to enable the commercialisation of fixed-wireless technology using the latest standard ... 3GPP Release 15," he said.

"And we're doing this at scale."

However, for the first 50 installations, Lew said the telco will be "hand holding" its customers by providing professional installation and dedicated support.

"But eventually, all Optus 5G Home Broadband customers will be able to get it from our stores and have it working immediately as they leave the shop, and they'll be able to then bring the device home, and place it flexibly in any point of the house," he added.

"It's a much neater home broadband solution with no wires [and] no cables leading into people's homes."

According to Networks MD Dennis Wong, Optus chose Dickson as one of its first three 5G launch sites because it is a typical Australian suburb with both residential areas and small businesses.

During the launch, Optus demonstrated a WhatsApp call over 5G after connecting two smartphones to the Wi-Fi provided by the 5G equipment, as well as streaming 4K YouTube.

The 5G Home Broadband network uses Optus' holdings in the 3.456GHz spectrum band and uses 60MHz bandwidth.

The network is live in two suburbs of Canberra and one tower in Sydney, with 50 sites to come online by March to provide coverage to 60 suburbs. Its vendor partner for the initial 5G launch is Nokia, which has supplied its 5G RAN and Fastmile 5G customer premises equipment (CPE).

Optus said it will also have 1,200 5G mobile sites live by March 2020 across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia.

5G Home Broadband on Optus will cost AU$70 per month for unlimited data at a 50Mbps minimum speed guarantee.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled as a guest of Optus to Canberra

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