Australia is currently in the midst of a transition to a new “fifth generation cellular networks,” otherwise known as 5G. You may or may not have seen news items about the transition – indeed, perhaps you’ve already been notified by your provider about the transition taking place. But what exactly does it mean – and how will it impact my mobile service?
Unlike previous shifts – i.e. the recent change from 3G to 4G across Australia – the move to 5G is much less of a simple upgrade and much more of a significant transition. The move to 5G will impact plenty of other devices than just your smartphone, including robots used in industry and manufacturing, security cameras, drones, trucks and cars.
This means that not only will 5G represent improvements in speed and connectivity – similarly to those seen with the advent of 3G and 4G – but there will be significant changes in the way in which we use devices. The tech-speak – and the details of the rollout itself – can be confusing however, so we’ve developed this helpful guide to give you the lowdown on 5G in Australia.
What is 5G and what does it mean for me?
Like 4G and 3G before it, 5G represents the next generation of cellular – i.e. mobile – communication and connection in Australia. Unlike previous upgrades however, 5G will be a more significant set of upgrades – and will not just include mobile phones. The Australian Financial Review describes 5G as “a once-in-a-decade upgrade to our wireless systems”. The changes will be felt throughout the telecommunications and associated industries, from gaming to movies. While the specific technical aspects of 5G might not be that important – we really just want to know what it means for our phone usage – the AFR defines it as follows:
Strictly speaking, 5G is a set of technical ground rules that define the workings of a mobile phone network, including the radio frequencies used and how various components like computer chips and antennas handle radio signals and exchange data.
Perhaps the first thing to consider with 5G will be speed. 5G is set to be considerably faster than anything that has gone before it, allowing people to download entire films in less than a minute. Aside from significantly changing streaming, it will likely alter video game play in a considerable way. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence is also expected to be improved drastically. Live coverage of sport is likely to be improved dramatically as well. From there, the only real limit is our collective imaginations.
Fortunately, Australia will be one of the first countries which will see the rollout take place. This is a welcome change from how things used to be in the past, where the big device producers and our very own telcos did not consider our market as a priority.
Which Mobile Providers Offer 5G?
The two most important variables in facilitating a new generational rollout will be how ‘on board’ telcos and device makers are. In Australia, Telstra had been the first to indicate its support for the new technology, with a rollout expected earlier in 2019. There have been some delays due to a dispute between the Australian government and Chinese tech company Huawei, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying the government would not allow Huawei to build Australia’s 5G network.
This has meant that the plans for a 2019 Telstra rollout have been somewhat delayed for later in the year – with some predicting a 2020 rollout is more likely, which turns out to be right. Telstra currently offers mobile plans that include 5G network access with their Medium, Large, and Extra Large plans.
In addition to Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have already indicated that they will embrace 5G in 2020. Each company is currently testing and upgrading its infrastructure to ensure that this deadline is met. Optus and Telstra in particular have already successfully trialled the technology, and have just recently began focusing on the rollout. Telstra has already installed 5G infrastructure in 200 locations in Australia, while Optus has announced its 5G home broadband plan – which includes 5G-enabled devices such as Nokia’s Home Hub.
Which Mobile Devices will Support 5G?
Of course, it’s not only telcos that need to invest in the right infrastructure – device makers also have to be on board. Samsung has already begun rolling out handsets and devices which are 5G-enabled in the US and these are expected to be available in Australia in late 2019. Apple looks to be holding off until 2020 to release their first 5G-enabled devices. As we mentioned above, some other manufacturers such as Nokia have already begun to rollout their 5G-capable devices.
How much will 5G cost with a Mobile Plan?
Alright, so 5G is set to be a revolutionary technological leap, which will drastically change the way we connect with our devices – but how much will it cost? The main thing that will need to change with existing plans is data limits. Given that 5G will enable far more data to be transmitted, existing download limits will need to be increased significantly – which may end up being costly.
However, given that three providers have already invested significant amounts in improving their infrastructure, their commitment to 5G is clear. This means that they’re likely to compete against each other, with the ultimate beneficiary being the consumer.
They’re also likely to sell on to other providers, meaning that the current competition in the telecommunications market is set to continue to benefit a whole new generation of customers. As mentioned above, Telstra offers mobile plans with included 5G network access starting with the Medium plan at $65/month.
Last audited 15 October 2020
How Fast is 5G?
How fast your new 5G connection will be is likely to depend on a variety of things, from your location to your device. However, Qualcomm has developed chips which run at speeds of 1.4 gigabits per second – with a peak speed of 4.5 gigabits per second. This average speed is approximately 20 times faster than current speeds, while the peak speed is an even better improvement.
Qualcomm said that this would make downloading an average size movie take 17 seconds, compared with six minutes with 4G technology. 5G will also see a reduction in latency or lag, which is the time spent when your device is actually connecting to the different carrier switching centres. This is most commonly seen when starting a web search or refreshing a link. While it might not seem like the biggest problem – delays can be less than a second – you’ll definitely notice how frustrating it can be once you’ve actually made the switch.
Will 5G impact the NBN uptake?
We’ve been so focused on the continued rollout and upgrading of the NBN in recent years that it feels a little like 5G has crept up on us. So where will these two potentially revolutionary technologies sit alongside each other? At this stage it is hard to definitively say, although predictions that 5G may be better than the NBN are a tad premature.
While the capability and capacity of 5G will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen on a wireless basis, the NBN is likely to be superior for the foreseeable future (that is, of course, if it’s reached you yet). Remember when we said before that average 5G speeds would be around 1.5 gigabits, with a peak of 4.5? NBN speeds are set to run at 10 gigabits, which is significantly faster. Therefore, while 5G will give you great usability, for most moderate to high-usage customers, it will complement rather than replace the NBN.
Last audited 15 October 2020
Is 5G right for you?
5G technology is set to revolutionise the way in which we use our devices. Not only that, but it will bring with it the potential to link with a wide range of household ‘smart’ devices, meaning that 5G might just be the revolution that the internet of things was looking for.
While at this stage there are few concrete deadlines for when things are set to roll out, the big three Australian networks have already made a significant investment – which shows how truly committed they are. So whether you’re interested in being one of the first to get on the network or if you just want to keep abreast of when 5G will be available for you, be sure to keep your eye on Compare TV for all the new developments.