This is the second post in a series looking at how 5G’s reality might differ from perception. The first, Don’t expect a 5G big bang, boils down to how, often, the move from 4G to 5G technology will be almost seamless.
Author William Gibson summed up a lot about technology when he said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
That’s how it’s going to be with 5G mobile.
America’s Cup 5G
Spark New Zealand’s 5G plan is a good example of how this works. Managing director Simon Moutter has repeatedly said that his company aims to have a 5G network working on Auckland’s waterfront in time for the 2020 America’s Cup yacht races.
His idea is to showcase New Zealand technology to the world. Or at least the part of the world that watches yacht races. At the same time it will send a powerful signal to New Zealanders about Spark’s capability.
The company has a nationwide mobile network. Its 4G coverage extends to places where more than 97 percent of the population live, work or play. There are hundreds of 4G towers.
The 5G network pencilled in for 2020 is likely to be half a dozen or so sites. It won’t even cover all over central Auckland. There’s nothing wrong with this. It makes sense to start with a modest network build and then extend it to reach elsewhere.
For guidance look at 4.5G
Spark has done exactly this with its 4.5G network. At first there was a single site in central Christchurch. Then another, then another and so on. Although we’re on the cusp of the fifth generation, the 4.5G technology still hasn’t rolled out across New Zealand. It’s there in some towns and cities, not others.
New Zealand is not alone with this. Very few countries are building national 5G networks from scratch. The upgrade is expensive and the higher bandwidth, lower latency 5G offers is not essential everywhere. At least not yet. It will be over time.
It will take years, if ever, for New Zealand to get uniform nationwide 5G coverage. There’s a clue for this in Spark’s capital expenditure plans. Simon Moutter has previously said the company will fund its 5G roll out from its existing budget. In other words, the company doesn’t plan to spend up big in year one rolling out new hardware everywhere. It could take a decade.
There’s another aspect to this uneven distribution which we’ll look at in another post: it’s possible different places will end up with different types of 5G.