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Vodafone Australia announces 5G trials for 2016

Following its NB-IoT trials earlier this year with Huawei, Vodafone will be conducting lab tests of 5G network technology in the second half of 2016.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Vodafone Australia will be conducting demonstrations of 5G on its network in the second half of 2016, CEO Inaki Berroeta has announced, with the Internet of Things (IoT) a major driver of investing in the technology.

The 5G trials will be conducted in Vodafone's lab, according to VHA general manager for Access Network Delivery Kevin Millroy, who is filling the role of chief technology officer after Benoit Hanssen announced his departure to join the mobile telecommunications provider's half owner Hutchison.

"We're going to get our first glimpse of this toward the back end of this year," Millroy told media on Wednesday morning.

"We're working with a number of our partners at the moment, so there's not going to be any announcement as to who we're working with, but it will be our first opportunity to see and experience what a customer will get with a 5G offering, but it will be the first glimpse of it. The actual network will not be there until 2020."

Hanssen, who departs Vodafone next Tuesday, added that Vodafone will be one of the first to launch a 5G standardised offering.

"Our industry depends on standards and standardisation, so for us in Australia I think we'll be very early out with a standardised 5G offering," Hanssen said.

Berroeta outlined the importance of IoT to Vodafone's offerings worldwide, with a trial in narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) also on the telco's agenda.

"At the end of this year, Kevin will be demonstrating a 5G demo on our network. We will also be looking into narrowband IoT; IoT's an important part of our business and an important part of Vodafone business worldwide," Berroeta said.

"Vodafone Group is the biggest machine-to-machine provider in the world, and that is why we are also looking at this technology to enhance our services in Australia."

Vodafone Australia completed its trial of NB-IoT technology across a number of live sites in suburban and central Melbourne in April in partnership with Chinese technology giant Huawei, calling the wireless low-power wide-area network tests a success.

The network operator was able to attain greater depth and distance -- to the tune of penetrating through three double-brick walls in depth, and up to 30km in distance -- in coverage using NB-IoT in comparison to 2G, 3G, and 4G, according to Hanssen.

Using narrowband networks for IoT will allow for more devices to be connected to 4G networks at a lower cost, Hanssen said at the time.

Vodafone on Wednesday also released its IoT Barometer 2016, including for the first time Australian respondents in the survey of 1,096 executives worldwide.

"Vodafone are the leaders when it comes to IoT," executive general manager of Enterprise Stuart Kelly said.

"The Australian market from an IoT standpoint is expected to go beyond AU$1 billion in revenues by 2021; worldwide, there'll be 20 billion devices connected to the internet based upon IoT ... we're at the early stages of IoT, but the network team are laying the foundations for us to lead the market in this space.

"Again, worldwide, Vodafone Group are the number one players when it comes to M2M and IoT, and we need to take that capability and bring it into the Australian market. IoT as we said is becoming increasingly important, [but] when we look at the readiness of business in the Australian market, it differs greatly."

Australia is lagging behind APAC in IoT readiness, with many respondents to the survey expressing doubt that Australia is prepared from a process standpoint to manage IoT security; just 47 percent said they have the processes in place to manage this.

Despite this, the IoT Barometer found that 78 percent of Australian businesses believe IoT is important for future success, and 51 percent plan to launch connected solutions over the next year.

Vodafone eyes entry to NBN

The chief executive also revealed that Vodafone is looking to make an entry into retail offerings across the Australian government's National Broadband Network (NBN), now that it is less "futuristic" and more realistic.

"Now we've seen the NBN reaching a number of households, and they are now close to 1 million premises, and they have announced close to 5 million by the end of next year, and this is also another area that we are looking very closely," Berroeta said.

"We are investing a lot of time and effort in understanding whether this is something that we want to go into in the future, and how to [do it] in a way that we can provide some value to our customers."

Berroeta explained that Vodafone doesn't want to be just another provider; rather, it is searching for a way to differentiate its possible NBN offering to "do something more for our customers".

"Also, I think the way the model has been created in Australia is not a very difficult entrance. We have a significant customer base, and that is really the aim," he said.

"I think in the past, NBN was something more futuristic, and I think now it is getting closer for us to take a deeper look into. And probably consider how we can leverage that to continue growing our business."

Vodafone in July reported a net loss of AU$163.7 million for the first six months of the financial year on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) of AU$412 million and revenue of AU$1.6 billion.

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