Telstra CEO: 5G live at 15 sites before global standards to be set

With the final 5G standards to be set this week, Telstra CEO Andy Penn has said the telco's network is already live in 15 locations.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra already has its 5G network live across 15 towers, CEO Andy Penn has told ZDNet, with the telecommunications giant opening this week's 3GPP meeting in the Gold Coast on Monday.

Speaking with ZDNet ahead of the meeting, during which the final Release 15 standards for 5G will be decided, Penn said the fact that Telstra is hosting the body at such a pivotal time shows that the nation has a decent seat at the table in setting the standards for 5G.

"Telstra's always been a technology leader in telecommunications ... we've got one of the best networks if not the best network in the world," Penn said.

"This is a pretty pivotal meeting in the journey for 5G, and so we're very much front and centre of those discussions."

According to Telstra executive director of Network and Infrastructure Engineering Channa Seneviratne, the 3GPP meeting will be a "major milestone in the history of evolution towards 5G".

"We've been members of 3GPP for a while, and our delegates are active on the radio access networks setting standards, contributing to those; we've also got people who are active on the system architecture as well, so for example in particular we're very heavily involved in work that's being done towards convergence of wireless and wireline in the future," Seneviratne explained to ZDNet.

With only Mongolia, the Western Sahara, and Suriname having fewer people per square kilometre than Australia, Penn added that Seneviratne has been "instrumental" in ensuring this factor is taken into consideration during the setting of 5G standards, after 3G and 4G only ever had a maximum transmit distance of 35km when the standards were ratified.

"That never, ever took into account our requirements in regional, rural Australia, and to be able to cater for that, we had to basically work with our vendors to provide and devise a bolt-on solution beyond 35 kilometres," Seneviratne told ZDNet.

"However, with 5G we have actually contributed to the standards and been very effective in ensuring that the 5G standards when they're ratified will actually cater for our rural case, and in fact ... allow for transmission radiuses of up to 200 kilometres, so that's a major win for us in Australia and in particular Telstra's leadership."

Telstra's live 5G network is live at 13 mobile towers in the Gold Coast, one in Toowoomba, and one in Brisbane, with 200 to go live by the end of 2018.

"We've got a very clear plan and roadmap in progress for where that deployment is going to happen, and we've got all of our partners lined up to support that rollout," Penn told ZDNet.

"We need the handset and the device manufacturers to start building equipment at scale now. Initially by having the 5G network ready, what that enables us to do is to trial and test the early versions of the handsets and dongles and mobile hotspots and tablets, and the manufacturers come through and test them outside of the lab environment and in a commercial environment."

Telstra is using spectrum in the 3.4GHz band for its live 5G sites at the moment ahead of the 3.6GHz spectrum auction in November, with Penn saying he anticipates spectrum in the 26-28.25GHz millimetre-wave (mmWave) band being made available in 2019.

While he wouldn't be drawn on whether Telstra is considering working with Samsung or Nokia on 5G, Penn said Telstra has a historic relationship with Ericsson as an "important strategic partner", as well as good relationships with Intel and Qualcomm.

The most important part of the government's 5G ban on Huawei is the clarification of policy settings, Penn added, so that Telstra can now make sure it rolls out a 5G network that's compliant with these.

"We're fortunate in that the government in Australia ... have got great technological expertise in understanding the importance of the role of telecommunications, and quite proactive in terms of having the appropriate policy agenda in place to support the industry," Penn said.

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