According to Penn, Telstra has only physical implementation and chipset aspects remaining in its preparation work for the extensive 5G trial on the Gold Coast that will take place during the Commonwealth Games in April.
"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," he told ZDNet during CES.
"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 millimetre-wave (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."
While Telstra is not a sponsor of the Commonwealth Games, Penn 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.
"2018 is going to be a very, very significant year for 5G," he said.
"Not because necessarily there will be commercial launches of 5G in 2018, but more in the sense that there's a meeting of 3GPP ... I believe that that meeting, which we are hosting on the Gold Coast in September, will be quite pivotal in terms of some of the pretty important early standards setting which will then set the path for 5G and we'll start to see some commercial rollouts I suspect globally following that in 2019."
Deployments could therefore occur prior to 2020 if standardisation, technology advancements, and spectrum allocation come together this year, Penn said.
"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 said the telco is in discussions with all of them in relation to 5G.
"I think any initiative that ensures that Australia is well prepared to be an early adopter of 5G is going to be helpful. We're going to be at the front regardless," he told ZDNet, adding that working group talks have not begun yet.
"The government's obviously keen to ensure that it provides any other support for the industry to facilitate early adoption."
Also on the working group are Optus, Vodafone Australia, Nokia, Huawei, Ericsson, Samsung, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), the Communications Alliance, the Internet of Things Alliance Australia, and five federal government departments.
"I stated three years ago that our vision is to become a world-class technology company that empowers people to connect, and that wasn't about moving away from being a telco; it was about recognising what a telco needs to become in the future," he said.
"And it's very much about the applications and services that you'll see materialise here at CES, and building the technology capabilities that are critical for us to ensure that those applications and services work best on Telstra's network than anyone else's, that we can deliver them with the network experience.
"Virtually everything in the world that can be connected will be connected in the future, and all of this tech innovation relies on a high-quality, fast, reliable, safe, secure, and smart network."
Penn: Telstra looking to push autonomous driving in Victoria
Commenting that autonomous and connected cars were one of the biggest things to come out of CES 2018, Penn told ZDNet that Telstra is looking to push autonomous vehicles in Victoria.
"We just put in an application with the Victorian government literally in the last couple of days in conjunction with Toyota to try and sort of get some changes there from a regulatory perspective to enable that to happen," Penn revealed.
Telstra's chief executive added that the telco is the biggest player in the autonomous driving market in Australia, pointing towards trials in South Australia over the last couple of years and the acquisition of GPS and telematics fleet-management solutions provider MTData.
"We connect more cars in Australia than anybody else, we're Tesla's partner in Australia, Toyota's partner in Australia, we are very big in logistics, so a lot of trucks," Penn told ZDNet.
"People look at autonomous driving as sort of a binary thing. It's not; it's part of a system of improving efficiency and experience in driving, and so it's driver assistance as well as from a logistics company's perspective it's about monitoring the fleet, the maintenance in the fleet, the actual stuff it's hauling, that it's refrigerated, the quality of the timing, all that sort of stuff.