by CIO New Zealand

Spark switches on first 5G wireless broadband

Sep 25, 2019
InnovationManaged IT Services

Mark Beder
Credit: Spark NZ

This is the kind of connectivity required to run a world-class science research institute in regional NZ Steve Cotter, Xerra

Spark has switched on 5G customer services for the first time in New Zealand with a limited number of business and consumer customers in Alexandra, Central Otago, invited to experience high-speed wireless broadband delivered by 5G.

The move to switch on 5G comes as Spark completes its biggest-ever upgrade across its wireless network, with capacity enhanced by approximately 80 per cent over the past two years.

This includes new cell sites and the extensive rollout of 4.5G, which significantly enhances network performance and capacity relative to conventional 4G.

Mark Beder, Spark technology director, says that Alexandra is the beginning of Spark’s regional rollout of 5G with a plan to bring 5G wireless broadband services to another five heartland New Zealand towns before Christmas 2019, then other locations early next year.

Access to these 5G services will initially be by invitation only.

“For over a year we’ve been working hard to prepare for 5G, including adding over 150 new mobile sites and extensively upgrading our existing network to 4.5G, to take advantage of the more efficient use of spectrum and greater capacity that 4.5G provides.

Spark NZ
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Over the next six months, we will roll out a mixture of 5G and further improvements to our 4G network in major centres Mark Beder, Spark NZ

“We’ve now reached the point where invited customers can start experiencing some of the real benefits of 5G,” says Beder.

“We believe that the first meaningful use-case for 5G will be increasing the capacity and speed of wireless broadband offerings.”

He says this is the reason why Spark chose Alexandra to start 5G services as it has one of the highest uptake rates in the country for Spark’s existing wireless broadband product.

Spark says it continues to see 50 per cent year on year data growth on its network, so the improved data efficiency offered by 5G – through better use of available spectrum – is compelling.

“We believe that 5G will evolve to use multiple bands of spectrum, so we’re optimising our current spectrum assets and working on the latest technology advancements to make best use of the spectrum we currently have.

“Over the next six months, we will roll out a mixture of 5G and further improvements to our 4G network in major centres,” says Beder.

“Initial testing in Alexandra has shown speeds for 5G wireless broadband of five to 10 times faster than for 4G wireless broadband in the same location.”

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Vodafone tests 5G site in Christchurch

Vodafone, meanwhile, says testing is now underway at its first South Island 5G-enabled site.

Located at Addington Racecourse in Christchurch, the existing mobile cell site has been upgraded with specialist Nokia technology, including 5G-enabled antennas, laying the foundation for faster speeds and lower latency for Kiwi customers when the commercial network is switched on in December.

“We’ll be upgrading a number of existing cell sites in Christchurch over the coming months, which will include both 5G and 4.5G technology installations,” says Sharina Nisha, head of platforms at Vodafone New Zealand.

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Kiwi businesses can use 5G as a tool to develop the next raft of technology innovationsTony Baird, Vodafone NZ

“Our team of engineers will be undertaking extensive testing to ensure we’re providing optimum connectivity for customers when the 5G network is first switched on in December.

“As part of the network testing, we are checking connectivity and responsiveness – and we’re confident Kiwis will be impressed by the faster speeds and lower latency that 5G offers.”

Vodafone says by December, 100 existing cell sites around New Zealand will be upgraded to include 5G technology and an additional 400 cell sites will be upgraded to be 4.5G-enabled sites, which will add significant additional capability into the network overall.

The site upgrades that are part of the pre-launch phase include inner-city mobile towers in popular and high-traffic locations such as business districts, entertainment hubs, shopping malls and airports.

Commenting on the overall network rollout, Vodafone NZ technology directorTony Baird explains 5G has the potential to turbocharge New Zealand businesses.

“5G will power the next evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and will enable hyper-connectivity between machines, smart devices and people,” says Baird.

“The greater control offered to devices powered by the faster transition speeds and lower latency that 5G offers, complemented by advances in battery life, will mean that Kiwi businesses can use 5G as a tool to develop the next raft of technology innovations.”

Game changer

In Alexandra, Spark 5G is live in the offices of Xerra Earth Observation Institute. Xerra uses data from satellites orbiting the earth to build identification, monitoring and reporting tools that provide insights to industry, business and government.

Steve Cotter, CEO of Xerra says 5G is a game changer.

“One of our biggest challenges to grow as a regional startup has been, since day one, poor connectivity. We work with large data sets and it used to take us up to four hours to download one image. Now, with 5G, we can do it in a matter of minutes,” says Cotter.

“This is the kind of connectivity required to run a world-class science research institute in regional New Zealand. For us, it means people can enjoy a Central Otago lifestyle, but also pursue a rewarding data-intensive scientific career. And it’s a key to growing greater prosperity in the regions.”

Sanchia Jacobs, chief executive of Central Otago District Council, says it’s a great opportunity for Alexandra to experience 5G.

“It is a technological leap forward that will reset the boundaries of just what can be done and enable new businesses to establish here.

“Most importantly, it takes us a step closer to those people who can work from any location in the world to choose to work in Central Otago.

“The Council is looking forward to working with Spark to offer the community the opportunity to try this new technology by installing a 5G modem at the Alexandra Library.”

Spark NZ
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