Telstra has announced switching on its 5G mobile network in Toowoomba, Queensland, with CEO Andy Penn saying the live network demonstrates Telstra's commitment to providing coverage to rural and regional areas of Australia.
"Telstra provides more network investment and mobile coverage across Australia than anyone else, and regional Australia is an essential part of our 5G plans," Penn said on Wednesday morning.
"5G devices are around the corner, and when they are commercially available, this network upgrade means the people of Toowoomba will be among the first people in the world to enjoy access to 5G services."
Penn said the 5G network would enable use cases across agriculture, business, education, health, and community services for regional areas.
"For a sector like agriculture, the fibre-like data speeds, low latency and high performance, and capacity of 5G open up fantastic opportunities for growth," Penn added.
"It's an incredibly exciting time as we start to expand 5G coverage in capital cities as well as more regional centres over the coming months."
The launch follows Telstra earlier this month setting live its first 5G network in the Gold Coast, with Australia's largest telecommunications carrier saying it will send live over 200 "5G-capable" mobile sites by the end of the year.
Telstra's 5G network in the Gold Coast utilises Ericsson's Baseband 6630, AIR 6488, and 4G/5G system software; Telstra's 3.5GHz and 2100MHz spectrum; and Intel's 5G platform.
During the telco's financial results call earlier this month, Penn told ZDNet that while 5G handsets will not be ready until next year, having the 5G network live means Telstra will be able to fully test the devices as they do become available.
"What we're really doing is we're starting to roll out 5G to make sure that our network is 5G-ready ... ultimately, we need the handset manufacturers, the big companies around the world, to be making compatible 5G devices -- but our network is essentially ready, so we can start trialling and testing those as they come through," Penn told ZDNet.
"So we're basically rolling out a number of sites, and we'll expect to have 200, and that is across the nation, by the end of the calendar year, and absolutely we are working with Ericsson, they've obviously been a long-term partner with us. I won't comment on whether we're working with other parties as well, as we're obviously in a pretty critically and strategically sensitive time for 5G competitively, but I'm really pleased with some of the things that we're doing in 5G.
"This is going to be an exciting opportunity for Telstra, and an exciting opportunity for telcos, and this is about getting the technology right, being in a leadership position, and that's exactly what we're doing."
Telstra had last month announced making a 5G data call across a commercial mobile network in partnership with Intel and Ericsson using the 5G non-standalone (NSA) network at Telstra's 5G Innovation Centre in the Gold Coast.
The call made use of Telstra's 3.5GHz spectrum holdings and SIM card; Ericsson's commercial 5G NR radio 6488, baseband, and packet core; and Intel's 5G Mobile Trial Platform. Using an Ericsson virtualised 5G packet core running on its NFVi, the 5G slice was connected into Telstra's existing mobile network.
"Demonstrating this 5G data call end-to-end using my own personal SIM card on Telstra's mobile network is the closest any provider has come to making a 'true' 5G call in the real-world environment, and marks another 5G first for Telstra," outgoing MD of Networks for Telstra Mike Wright said.
"We continue to work with global technology companies Ericsson and Intel as well as global standards bodies to advance the deployment of commercial 5G capability in Australia."
Intel Next Generation and Standards vice president and general manager Asha Keddy said the tech giant would continue working on 5G use cases and trials ahead of the launch of Telstra's 5G network.
Back in November, Telstra had similarly announced completing the world's first 5G data call using 26GHz millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum on its production core network.
That announcement had come while launching its 5G testing centre to continue trialling new networking technologies in partnership with Ericsson.
In March, Telstra also announced switching on the world's first 5G-enabled Wi-Fi hotspots in the Gold Coast, with the idea to bring 5G out of the lab to test in the real world while working around the lack of compatible devices.
Telstra's announcements followed Penn telling ZDNet during Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February that the global race to deploy and launch a 5G network is about offering an entire solution more so than simply laying claim to the title of being first.
Rival telco Optus, meanwhile, hit back at Telstra's claims of being the first Australian carrier to launch a 5G network, saying it had already showcased a live network earlier this year.
"Optus publicly demonstrated its 5G capability in April at its 5G Live showcase during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, which combined state-of-the-art 5G use cases and 8K video streaming on the go on Optus' live 5G trial indoor and outdoor network, in addition to achieving speeds of 16Gbps," Optus Networks MD Dennis Wong said.
"Furthermore, the lack of commercially available 5G devices means that no network provider can claim leadership at this time."
ZDNet unpacks the main points of Telstra's new three-year strategy, including the establishment of InfraCo and Global Business Services, and how it will handle NBN, 5G, and TPG.
Telstra plans to switch on more than 200 '5G-capable sites' by the end of 2018, starting in the Gold Coast.
Telstra has announced a net profit of AU$3.5 billion on revenue of AU$26 billion and EBITDA of AU$10.1 billion for FY18, citing the 'enormous impact' of the NBN as well as increased mobile competition.
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