Bill Bennett


Tag: 5G mobile

5G is the fifth generation of cellular mobile technology. It’s faster, has lower latency and can handle more simultaneous connections than 4G networks. 5G is still being rolled out today.

Standard mobile handsets at evolutionary dead end

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE 5G press release leads with the phone’s case design.

That’s right. Samsung’s public relations professionals think the single standout fact that will get journalists and others writing about the new phone is the case.

This tells you everything about the state of the phone market in 2021: it’s no longer exciting. We appear to have reached an evolutionary dead end.

Galaxy S21 FE 5G looks like a fine phone

There is nothing to suggest the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is anything but a fine phone. On paper it appears to tick all the important boxes.

Yet, we have come to the stage 1950s US motor manufacturers reached when they put giant tail fins on cars. They made non-essential design changes purely to signal to consumers “This is a new product”.

The days when you could whip a recently purchased phone out of your pocket and have people admiringly ask: “is that the X phone?” are long in the past.

Few people care about new phones any more.

A replacement market

These days you buy a new phone when the old one wears out or has been dropped one time too many. With one major exception people are not rushing to grab new phone features.

While cameras get better with each product cycle, the upgrade is meaningless. Fewer and fewer users push their phone cameras to the limit.

The majority of users don’t get much beyond point and click auto-settings1.

5G support

There is one feature upgrade in the Galaxy S21 FE 5G that we need to talk about. As the name suggests, it supports 5G mobile networks.

That may sound important. For a handful of users it may even be important. Yet for the vast majority, it will barely register.

Having 5G support doesn’t add anything significant to your mobile phone experience.

On the other hand, it is a box every new phone needs to tick. Soon it will be hard to sell phones that don’t support 5G.

Nice, but nothing special

There’s nothing a 5G phone can do that a decent 4G phone doesn’t handle. It’s not as if we can’t sit on a bus watching high resolution streaming video on 4G.2

Virtual reality might change that one day. But not yet.

You may hear salespeople tell you that including 5G support will future proof your phone purchase.

This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The 4G phone networks will be around for longer than the likely life expectancy of a phone purchased in early 2022.

Years to go

Phone companies start thinking about shutting down previous generation networks about ten years after the new one arrives. All the three mobile operators in New Zealand have either upgraded the bulk of their 4G towers or are in the process of upgrading.

Chances are, the mobile towers you use often are 4.5G or 4.9G or somewhere between the two.

5G mobile is important. But everyday mobile phone users won’t notice the difference.

If anything, Samsung’s press release is further evidence that everyday mobile handsets have reached an evolutionary dead end. There’s scope for innovation. Samsung’s folding screen phones show that. Yet for now, there’s not a lot of excitement in new phone launches.

  1. You might. But we’re not talking about you here. This is about the broader market, not individuals. ↩︎
  2. Lower latency could change the mobile game experience. If you’re a keen mobile gamer you may want to keep an eye on developments there. ↩︎

6GHZ band: Why you need it more than the telcos

New Zealand’s government is planning how to use the 6GHz band.

Decisions made this year by the Radio Spectrum Management, the government agency that decides how radio waves are used, will affect everyone who uses Wi-Fi at home or work.

Ideally, the entire 6GHz band will be unlicensed. That way we will all be able to make better use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices. Everyone will have a better computer and internet experience.

Yet spectrum is a limited resource. Everyone wants it, including a group of companies who want to sell it back to us.

Unlicensed for now

Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees want Radio Spectrum Management to set aside a slice of the 6GHz band they can use to boost their 5G mobile spectrum.

The big phone companies have money and political clout. But they are up against almost the entire technology sector including companies with even more money and worldwide political clout.

Apple, Microsoft and Google are among the tech giants who submitted to the RSM. The list includes another dozen names you may or may not know.

What’s at stake?

If you haven’t heard of Wi-Fi 6E yet, you soon will.

It’s an upgrade to the wireless network technology that pushes data around homes and offices.

The difference between today’s Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6E is like the difference between dial-up broadband and fibre. It’s faster, more reliable and less trouble.

Gigabit speeds

With Wi-Fi 6E, your home or office wireless network will run at gigabit speeds. Without it, the link from a device to the local wireless router can be the bottleneck between you and the internet.

Wi-Fi 6E connections will be more reliable and you’ll have less trouble getting the network to reach every part of your home or office.

The technology can connect many more devices at the same time.

Wi-Fi 6E solves congestion problems. There will be less interference from your neighbour’s Wi-Fi. This will make it easier for you to get a decent home or office network.

Among other thing you’ll get better streaming and better zoom calls.

Here is a helpful guide to whether you should upgrade to Wi-Fi 6


Despite its name, the 6GHz band runs from 5.9 to 7.1GHz. That’s 1.2GHz of wireless bandwidth to play with.

That is about four times the amount of bandwidth available to today’s Wi-Fi networks. In other words, you can expect roughly four times the network speed.

Because the 6GHz band is a higher frequency than the 2.4 or 5GHz bands used for today’s Wi-Fi, the signals don’t travel as far. This is why you’ll get less interference from other Wi-Fi networks in your immediate neighbourhood.

Today’s Wi-Fi channels are 40MHz each. The technology needs to have 160MHz channels to deliver the extra performance. That isn’t practical without keeping the entire 6GHz band unlicensed.

What’s happening with 6GHz overseas?

In many places around the world part or all the 6GHz spectrum band has been set aside for unlicensed use. In this context, unlicensed means you can use it for Wi-Fi.

The US, Brazil, Canada and Korea are among the nations who have announced they are allocating the entire 6GHz band for unlicensed use.

As a consequence, a slew of Wi-Fi 6E hardware is on its way. That’s coming regardless of whether our government keeps the 6GHz band free. You won’t be able to make full use of it if Radio Spectrum Management is swayed by the telcos.

New Zealand is not the only country lagging behind these leaders in making a decision. In June, Europe set aside the lower 480 MHz of the band for unlicensed use but held off on a decision about the rest of the 6GHz band.

That’s similar to today’s position in New Zealand.

An international ITU World Radio Communications conference is supposed to debate the issue and help align policies around the world. The problem with that is the conferences take place every four years. The next one is two years away. By then hardware companies will be preparing Wi-Fi 7 equipment.

Spark expands uncapped fixed wireless broadband

Last week Spark extended what it calls its ‘uncapped’ fixed wireless broadband footprint. It now reaches another 500,000 potential customers.

The company’s Unplan Metro plan, yes that’s right and yes, it does sound weird, is now available at 1.2 million homes. The expanded fixed wireless broadband footprint includes towns and the rural areas where it is more needed.

Spark says that covers around two-thirds of all homes and more than 10 percent of rural households.

Where fixed wireless scores

Fixed wireless broadband is an alternative to fibre broadband. It’s a great choice if you live in a place where you can’t get fibre.

Performance and reliability is not as good as fibre, but it is better than your practical alternatives.1

If you can get fixed wireless at your address – that is not always a given2 – it installs fast. Spark will courier a modem and you could be online within an hour of it arriving.

It may be worth buying a low-end fixed wireless plan if you have limited broadband needs or are on a tight budget. Spark has a Basic plan for $45 a month with 40GB of data.

That’s more than enough for almost anyone who doesn’t use streaming, video conferencing or online gaming. You’ll be able to make voice calls and handle a limited number of Zoom meetings each month.

Otherwise, for a lot of people fixed wireless represents poor value. In almost every case you’ll be able to buy a faster, more reliable fibre plan with fewer restrictions on data downloads for less money. A number of people were let down by fixed wireless broadband when working from home during lockdowns.

That’s the case even if you buy fibre from Spark, which is among the most expensive options on the market.

What you will pay

Spark’s 5G Wireless Broadband Plan with nominally unlimited data – see below – costs $95. If you’re not on Spark’s 5G networks, and at the time of writing few people are, you can get a 4G fixed wireless plan for $85. Chances are it will be fast enough to meet your broadband needs, but, unlike with fibre, there are no guarantees.

In comparison no-questions-asked 100Mbps unlimited fibre plan from Spark is $90. You can buy similar plans elsewhere for up to $20 less. Flip has a fibre plan that works out at around $60 a month.

An all-you-can-eat 1Gbps fibre plan from Spark costs $110. A mere $15 more than the wireless plan. That’s a faster speed that most people need. Yet it means there will never be any limits on your broadband activity even with a house full of internet fanatics.

Uncapped – that word doesn’t mean what you think it means

While Spark describes Unplan Metro as either ‘uncapped’ or ‘unconstrained’ data, that’s not the full story. In the small print there’s mention of a Fair Use Policy.

This is vague. You have to dig around to get a clear picture of what it could mean. But in simple terms it means Spark can kick you off if it decides you are using too much data.

In other words, it is neither uncapped or unconstrained in the usual sense of those words. The Commerce Commission may yet have something to say about this description.

Spark, Vodafone pushing fixed wireless

Spark, Vodafone, and to a lesser extent 2degrees are both pushing fixed wireless broadband as an alternative to fibre.

Spark CEO Jolie Hodson said earlier this year she would like to move between 30 and 40 percent of landline customers to wireless by 2023.

It’s a lucrative business.

Wireless services piggyback off the cellular networks used to connect mobile phones. It requires extra investment to support fixed wireless, but that’s incremental.

The technology bypasses the wholesale fibre networks. More to the point they bypass the fees charged by fibre companies. Spark and Vodafone make a higher margin from wireless broadband than from fibre.

In the past customers have had a mixed experience with wireless. Network upgrades and the switch to 5G will improve that, but the technology is not for everyone.

  1. That may not be the case once the new satellite services get out of beta. ↩︎
  2. Local towers can be full although Spark is upgrading its network fast so you may not need to wait long ↩︎

Nokia G20 review: Big battery, low-price Android

The Nokia G20 won’t win any high performance prizes. Yet at $279, the mid-range Android phone from HMD Global represents solid value.

Since HMD Global revived the Nokia brand, the company has push a straightforward pitch. It makes less expensive phones with the essential features but few trimmings.

The real value lies in a commitment to provide regular operating system updates and security patches on a scale that other Android phone makers either can’t or won’t match. It is an Android One phone like earlier Nokia models.

The Nokia G20 follows this template. It has a 6.5-inch 720p LCD display that’s on a par with phones costing more than twice as much. The main camera has 48 megapixels. There’s a 5 megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 2 megapixel macro camera and a 2 megapixel depth sensor. On the front there is an 8 megapixel camera.

You’ll get decent pictures. It does an OK job with low-light conditions. That’s rare for a phone in this price range.

If photography is important to you, it may pay to spend more on an advanced phone, although this will not embarrass you.

Value, not flashy

At this price you can’t expect the latest features like wireless charging. It doesn’t have the most powerful processor and it doesn’t work with 5G networks. All those things are available further up the Nokia range.

Another price compromise is the plastic case. It’s not as pretty as more expensive phones, but it is sturdy enough to take workplace knocks and blows and carry on working. The plastic is not slippery. You can grip it to stop it slipping from your hands.

Also, you get a long battery life. Android phones rarely run for more than a day of frequent use. HMD says Nokia G20 users should be able to go three days before needing a recharge.

There are three years of monthly security and operating system updates. HMD Global gives New Zealand customers an extended three year warranty. Which means you can spread that $279 price over three years.

Ericsson Mobile Report: The rise of fixed wireless

The June 2021 Ericsson Mobile Report says users are taking up 5G technology at a faster rate than they adopted 4G.

By year end Ericsson forecasts 580 million 5G users worldwide. By 2026 this will rise to 3.5 billion.

It says fixed wireless broadband user numbers will hit 180 million in that year.

This compares with Ericsson’s estimate of 1.2 billion fixed-line broadband connections today. By 2026 that will rise to 1.5 billion.

Fixed wireless everywhere

It says seven out of ten mobile service providers now offer fixed wireless broadband. The number has doubled in three years.

In New Zealand, all three mobile operators sell fixed wireless.

Ericsson prefers the term fixed wireless access or FWA.

It defines FWA as:

“A connection that provides primary broadband access through wireless wide area mobile network enabled customer premises equipment (CPE).

“This includes various form factors of CPEs, such as indoor (desktop and window) and outdoor (rooftop and wall mounted). It does not include portable battery-based Wi-Fi routers or dongles.”

Fibre and fixed wireless, not fibre or

Countries where there is little landline broadband show the fastest growth in fixed wireless connections.

Yet Ericsson says:

The high adoption rate of FWA is also prevalent in countries with a high fibre penetration.

Fixed wireless accounts for a greater share of all mobile network data. Today it is 15 percent of all data on mobile networks. Ericsson says by 2026 that will rise to 20 percent. A total of 64 exabytes.

By 2026 around four fixed wireless connections in ten will be on 5G.

Ericsson Mobile Report says broadband IoT to take over

Ericsson says IoT connections are moving from 2G or 3G networks to 4G and 5G.

It calls the older technologies Massive IoT. The term includes NB-IoT and Cat-M1 IoT.

Ericsson says:

Massive IoT primarily consists of wide-area use cases, connecting large numbers of low-complexity, low-cost devices with long battery life and relatively low throughput.

This includes meters, sensors and tracking devices.

Broadband IT uses higher throughput, lower latency and larger data volumes.

“Typical use cases include cloud-based AR/VR, remote control of machines and vehicles, cloud robotics, advanced cloud gaming and real-time coordination and control of machines and processes.

“Deployment of the first commercial devices supporting time-critical communications is expected during 2022.”

Innovation studio showcases Spark wireless network

Spark has opened an innovation studio to let potential customers see how the company’s wireless networks can work for their businesses.

The studio, which is below Spark’s Auckland headquarters, was formally opened this week by digital economy minister Dr David Clark.

Clark put the opening in context. He says the government departments that responded fastest to last year’s Covid pandemic were those who were most technically advanced.

Speaking at the opening, CEO Jolie Hodson says the centre brings all Spark’s wireless networks together in a single place for the first time. Customers can test applications using 4G, 5G, Cat M1, NB IoT and LoRaWAN.

This emphasises the complementary nature of wireless networks. It can often be a case of picking the right network for the application, but there are times where different networks can work together. At the same time it underlines Spark’s ability to provide communications for any application.

Spark previously operated a similar 5G-focused innovation centre in the Wynyard Quarter. One of the lessons from that earlier showcase was that the technologies demonstrated need to cycle regularly. Spark says it doesn’t expect anything in the new studio to stay in place for longer than six months.

More data, less carbon

Hodson says Spark’s wireless technologies have the potential to help companies meet New Zealand’s goal of becoming carbon zero by 2050.

In part that’s because modern wireless technologies can use less electricity to push move bits through the airwaves than earlier technologies.

Environmental themes are everywhere. Spark divided the innovation studio into four zones; utilities management, smart environments, emerging technologies and asset management.

The emerging technology zone, shows a collaboration with car company Toyota. It uses virtual reality to give customers a taste of driving a new vehicle without the need to distribute fleets of demonstration vehicles around the country.

Water quality

Examples elsewhere include a buoy containing sensors that can be used to monitor water quality. A mussel farm on the Firth of Thames uses the buoy. Because it can keep a close watch on water conditions it means mussel farmers can harvest at the best times.

A project involving Auckland Transport and Spark’s Qrious data and analytics division connects sensors on rubbish bins, street lights and benches. The bins can report back when they are full. It means council workers can time bin collection to save fuel and trips while also keeping streets tidier. The system can turn lights on and off as needed, saving power.

Spark has gone for a practical approach to the innovation studio. Hodson says with one or two exceptions everything on show is available for use today. “It’s about closing the gap between marketing and action”.