Setting realistic expectations for 5G in regional WA

Page last updated: Tuesday, 14 May 2019 - 1:37pm

There is a lot of buzz and hype regarding the coming availability of 5G mobile services, anticipated to occur later this year.

Expectations are high, perpetuated by articles regularly appearing in the media.

As a result, many people have developed unrealistic expectations of the soon-to-be released 5G service, such as ‘towers being capable of extending from 35km to 200km’ and leading to ‘better coverage in the bush’.

To get the most out of the arrival of 5G, it is important to understand a bit about how 5G will work and that there be realistic expectations for what will occur and when. From what we know now, it’s likely that people in the regions will have to wait for a while before 5G arrives in regional and rural Australia.  Here are a few things to consider:

5G will generally be ‘line-of-sight’ access only –Higher frequencies are required for 5G, and coverage of individual 5G access points will in most cases be extremely limited (eg. 1-2km). Generally, if you cannot see the access point, it will not be usable. Further, most 5G frequencies don’t go through windows, bounce off walls or go around corners; so, in most instances, it will require a direct, unobstructed line of sight to the access point (tower). For example, using 5G indoors will likely require repeaters installed on windows.

Limited availability in rural/ regional areas – Because 5G doesn’t propagate like previous technologies, installing a 5G transmitter alongside 4G and 3G on existing towers will not provide similar coverage. The 5G service will operate mostly in the ’millimetre-band’ (extremely high frequencies) in a different algorithm that will utilise various frequencies and technologies to mix and match to get the best results. Though there may be some exceptions, most 5G deployments will be small cells with very limited range, making it necessary to have a high number of densely-populated cells to provide full coverage in an area. This will limit 5G deployment in the initial stages primarily to dense, urban environments.

Optical fibre connections required – Because of the high capacity of data output 5G can provide, every access point will need to be connected to optical fibre ‘backhaul’ (many 3G and 4G towers are connected to the network by microwave links, especially in rural areas). This will significantly limit where access points can be deployed.

Limited substitution ability for NBN services – Because 5G will initially have such a limited reach, it will only be a viable substitute for NBN, and other broadband services, in a small number of densely-populated urban areas.

Uncertain timeframe for non-urban deployment of 5G services – At this stage, the carriers have not provided guidance for when 5G services will be available in rural and regional Australia, though it is likely to be about two to five years away before anything substantive is implemented.

 

- Article by eConnected's Robert Smallwood

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