Telstra will use 2018 to learn about, plan for, and develop 5G solutions using its trial network, testing lab, and innovation in the Gold Coast ahead of a non-standalone rollout to all major Australian centres.
Telstra has showcased its new 5G Innovation Lab and trial network on the Gold Coast, pulling in single user download speeds of over 3Gbps.
While director of Networks Mike Wright would not specify where and when Telstra expects to commercially launch 5G first, he told ZDNet that 2018 will see the telco focus on "learning about 5G" in order to inform its early launches.
"We haven't made any decisions, but typically, the way these new technologies emerge is they go to areas with the largest demand as set by the previous technology," Wright told ZDNet.
"So you can expect in all major centres we're likely to go fairly early with a 5G technology, and then as these additional use cases emerge, that will target [other] areas as they justify themselves. That's typically the way we launch it.
"All around the world we're expecting 2019 is going to be the year of early 5G launches as the technology matures, and then obviously exact location, time, and date we'll sort of keep that a surprise from certain other peoples in the industry."
During a test in its innovation centre launched on Monday, Telstra showed its 5G trial network reaching speeds of around 3.286Gbps down and 302Mbps up, with latency of 6 milliseconds. By comparison, its 4G network sat at around 703Mbps down/57Mbps up, with latency of 17ms.
"We had to in fact design a very special speedtest server, because there was nothing in the world that could actually manage to do these speeds," Wright said.
He added that with the non-standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR) specs being approved by international standards body 3GPP in December, much of Telstra's early launch sites -- hinted for 2019 -- will be 4G and 5G "glued" together.
"There's two configurations of 5G, particularly when you combine 4G with 5G, which is probably your mass market rollout we'll do in the major centres -- we'll actually sit 5G on top of 4G and that's called non-standalone. The two are almost glued together, and they work in harmony with each other," Wright told ZDNet.
"That will be the most likely earlier launch, and then as we start to do things like go into campuses, mining sites, specific areas with massive demand, very close machinery being operated with some of these very precise [instruments], we might start to build some standalone as well.
"But generally speaking, the early rollouts that we'll do on lower frequencies will tend to be glued on top of their 4G network, and that way the users will get the benefit of this huge 4G footprint we've already got, plus the 5G features where we need them."
Telstra showed off its first 5G "handset", which Ericsson shipped over from Sweden and is currently the size of a filing cabinet and weighs 200kg. It will be shrunk down into a tiny piece of silicon for smartphones "very, very quickly", according to Wright.
The handset equipment was loaded onto the back of a ute, which drove around the streets providing a live, 360-degree video feed to users in the innovation centre via a virtual reality (VR) headset.
During the day, Telstra also showcased use cases including the Little Ripper drone used in a simulated surf lifesaving exercise after last month being involved in a real rescue; drones as a "butler" delivery service; a remotely operated robot arm controlled using 5G video feed; 5G beamforming; and various VR applications.
According to COO Robyn Denholm, Telstra is poised to be a global leader in 5G due to its long-established connections with chip manufacturers and device makers.
"The team have already been working with chip manufacturers for 5G and also device makers for 5G for many, many months if not years on that front," she said.
"So one of the reasons for creating this type of innovation centre is so that we can then take real-life use cases and make sure that we have devices available for those use cases."
The centre, which is located at its Southport Exchange, will therefore be used for collaboration with tech partners and startups to innovate alongside Telstra, Denholm said, with CTO Hakan Eriksson adding that companies looking to build specific 5G capabilities will have first access to the centre.
"It's part of a AU$60 million investment that we've made in the Gold Coast, not just for the innovation centre but also for the capacity and upgrading the current network so that our customer experience for our customers will be second to none," Denholm said.
With the innovation centre also stocked with Ericsson workers, head of Ericsson Australia and New Zealand Emilio Romeo told ZDNet the 5G Innovation Centre is part of the memorandum of understanding Ericsson signed with Telstra on 5G.
Telstra had similarly launched a 5G testing centre on the Gold Coast back in November, at the time also announcing the completion of the world's first 5G data call using 26GHz millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum on Telstra's production core network.
The location of both the innovation lab and testing centre was chosen due to Telstra's intention to run a trial 5G network during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.
According to Wright, Telstra will use the centre to play around with new frequencies, and discover how they travel in the environment.
"The Gold Coast is a great environment, because we can test between high-rise buildings, we can test in an urban environment," he said.
"And we'll use that combined with some of these tests and the people we bring into this facility in the coming year to help us learn about how we're going to bring this new technology to life."
Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of Telstra
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