Samsung's 5G is not the death knell of the NBN

The death of the NBN at the hands of wireless is, once again, greatly exaggerated.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

It seems like we've been here a few times before: An advancement in wireless technology, and those opposed to the National Broadband Network (NBN) claim that it spells doom for the fixed-line fibre network before it is even finished being built.

In a very limited trial this week, Samsung said it was able to get 1Gbps speeds on a 5G wireless network with 28GHz (yes, GHz) over a distance of 2 kilometres. The technology giant has said that it wants to be able to get 10Gbps speeds on its network for the public by 2020.

The argument between the Coalition and Labor has largely shifted away from the old fixed versus wireless debate, with the Coalition agreeing that fixed networks will play a role in Australia's broadband future — but just what kind of network it should be is the sticking point. It was, however, not entirely unsurprising that a few people, including conservative commentator Andrew Bolt, would question whether Samsung's 5G trial is the end of the line for the NBN.

The difficulty in claiming the newest lab trial is that the technology itself is still in very early days, and would be very expensive on its own. Samsung's trial needed 64 antennas in order to achieve 1Gbps.

It also used the 28GHz spectrum band, which is a much higher frequency than what telcos are used to using for getting in buildings.

The price for the technology will come down over time, but it is difficult to see that the price for the spectrum would. Certainly, the technology might evolve over time and use less spectrum, but for now, that is more than the telcos in Australia can afford by a long way.

Even if they were able to afford all of that spectrum, the costs would be recouped through high data prices for mobile users. The telcos even warned about this when the government set the reserve price for 4G spectrum late last year.

And that's without even taking into account other factors that show fixed line will still ultimately be able to achieve higher speeds than wireless. While 1Gbps is all well and good in a lab test, what result will be achievable in a network full of users?

Given wireless' capacity constraints, a new network with larger spectrum demand is not going to fix the daily commuter hell that many of us face each day. Short of some miraculous leap in technology that we haven't seen yet, 5G would suffer the same congestion issues that every previous network iteration has suffered from.

Updated: This article originally stated that the spectrum used 28GHz of spectrum rather than using the 28GHz spectrum band.


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