Spark NZ announces 5G rollout

Spark is planning to launch a 5G innovation lab in Q4 while it densifies its mobile network ahead of spectrum availability, eyeing live services by 2020 through annual capex spend of up to NZ$140 million.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Spark's network plans

(Image: Spark)

Spark NZ has announced that it is planning to deploy a 5G network to go live by 2020, with the New Zealand telecommunications carrier outlining its trials and cell site densification program.

"We are undertaking detailed planning to 'map' expected 5G cell site densities in New Zealand and, as a result of this planning and the learnings we have taken from our 5G testing, we are forming a good understanding of how many new sites we will need for 5G, and where," Spark managing director Simon Moutter said.

"We have already begun a build program to increase the number of cell sites in our existing mobile network -- which will enable us to meet near-term capacity demand as well as lay the groundwork for network densification required for 5G."

A briefing paper, published on Thursday morning by Spark, details its 5G plans and concerns, including arguments in favour of the New Zealand government making spectrum available for the rollout.

"Mid-frequency spectrum allocated for 5G, in what is known as the C-band, needs to be available to operators in sufficiently large blocks (of at least 80MHz, ideally 100MHz) to ensure they can build 5G networks exceeding current 4G performance," the paper said.

"Speeds and performance that materially exceed 4G will require the use of much larger blocks (minimum of 400MHz, ideally two blocks totalling 800MHz) of high-frequency mmWave band spectrum.

"The C-band and mmWave band spectrum allocation processes should be completed as soon as possible, to ensure 5G services can be delivered in time for the 2020-21 America's Cup in Auckland as an international showcase opportunity."

Spark added that it undertook the first live trials of 5G in New Zealand back in March, attaining speeds of 9Gbps outdoors and 18Gbps indoors in Wellington, with the telco also planning to launch a 5G Innovation Lab in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct in Q4 of this year.

The 5G lab will enable Spark and its technology partners to trial and develop 5G applications using a test network.

"We will build New Zealand's best 5G network and we've already started laying the groundwork for that network so that once 5G spectrum is made available, we are in position to build our network and launch 5G services in short order," Spark added.

Spark said its 5G network will initially launch in metro areas due to mid- and high-frequency spectrum -- which do not have the signal reach for rural and regional areas -- likely being made available first by the New Zealand government.

"C-band and mmWave band are not suitable for pervasive coverage across rural New Zealand (beyond small provincial towns), because neither band has the radio signal reach to cover large, sparsely populated areas. Low-frequency spectrum bands (below 1000MHz) are needed to provide widespread rural coverage -- as occurs today with Spark's 4G (700MHz band) and 3G (850MHz band) services," Spark explained.

"For this reason, Spark has submitted to the government that 600MHz band spectrum be made available for 5G."

Once the government makes lower-band spectrum available, Spark said it would additionally look to "a range of options, including network sharing, to address rapid network expansion as widely as possible".

Spark said its 5G network, including spectrum purchases and cell site deployments, would be funded by its existing capital expenditure envelope by diverting spending from 4G to 5G.

"By 2020, we expect our wireless network-specific capex to be between 25 percent and 35 percent of Spark's overall capex envelope," the carrier said.

"This implies intended annual wireless network investment of approximately NZ$100 million to NZ$140 million, compared with an average of just over NZ$100 million for the past five years.

"Revenues from wireless connectivity are expected to increase only moderately over the first few years of 5G deployment, in line with recent trends. From about 2023 onwards, there is potential for further upside as customer demand grows for new capabilities, rather than just more capacity and speed."

The New Zealand Commerce Commission on Thursday afternoon unveiled its 2018-19 priorities [PDF], saying it will be focused on "understanding" 5G as well as working to improve customer experience across retail telecommunications.

"The adoption of 5G technology and the emergence of network virtualisation will be significant features of telecommunications markets, and understanding the implications for competition and regulation of both mobile and fixed-line services will be important for our work in this area," the commission said.

Spark NZ also recently launched its Internet of Things (IoT) offering for business and government, switching on its LoRaWAN IoT network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Shannon, Blenheim, Nelson, and Dunedin in March.

It then extended this coverage to Queenstown, Whangarei, Pukekohe, Gisborne, Napier, Taupo, New Plymouth, Whanganui, Timaru, Hastings, and Invercargill in June.

Spark's financial report for the first half of FY18 revealed that it is also continuing to trial its Cat-M1 IoT network.

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