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If you’ve been reading reports from this year’s CES show, you may be thinking about buying an 8K TV. It is possible you even have one1.

If you haven’t bought an 8K TV yet, here’s some advice: Save your money. This is a purchase you can safely put off for now.

Unless you have a very specific application, it’s not worth buying an 8K TV. It may be different in a year or two.

Samsung qled 8K TV

8K TV hype

Last week Samsung launched a new range of 8K QLED televisions at CES in Las Vegas. There are eight models to choose from. The new TVs are an update of earlier 8K models.

An 8K TV has 7680 × 4320 pixel resolution. That’s the same as four 4K screens. Samsung says the Q950-series also has “quantum dot enhancements”. This should trigger your marketing hype alarm system.

Some of the other specs are impressive on paper. The ‘Infinity Screen’2 sounds neat.

The bevels, that’s jargon for the plastic bit at the edge of the screen, are so small that the front of the TV is 99 percent display. The TV is only 15mm deep. You can read more about the specifications in the link above.

Where is the content?

At the time of writing there is next to zero 8K content. That should be reason enough to hold off on a purchase.

Couple the lack of content with the knowledge that previous generations of TV technology tend to fall in price over time. It means when there is enough worthwhile 8K material, that fancy new set you have your eye on may cost a few thousand dollars less.

At the time of writing local prices for 8K TVs start at around NZ$10,000 and go up to $80,000. You might find a cheaper option, but there’s a problem with that… read on.

Gamers

Games could be one of the first sources of 8K content. Microsoft and Sony promise the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation will support 8K.

It sounds promising, but in truth today’s consoles struggle to deliver a great 4K gaming experience, so take any 8K games talk with a pinch of salt.

There’s another reason to hold back on upgrading to 8K. The move from 4K to 8K is not as dramatic in picture quality as the move from older TV technologies to 4K.

In fact, it’s hard to see any picture improvement on smaller screens. Many of the 8K models on sale at moment, in particular the cheaper ones, fall into this category.

The screen size where swapping up makes sense differs depending on who you talk to so it would pay to try before you buy. Some say 60 inches is the cut off, others put it at 80 inches. Your house may not have room to accomodate a TV that big.

Bandwidth

There’s another issue to consider. Old fashioned television broadcasting over the airwaves doesn’t have the bandwidth to support 8K TV. Streaming TV companies like Netflix and Prime are yet to show their hands on 8K.

Most observers think they will announced 8K content soon. If you make major home hardware decisions based on what some observers think, you are buying into a world of pain.

In other words, there’s not much content and nothing official about when we can expect to see an abundance of 8K material.

Fibre is a must

Streaming 8K TV needs a lot of bandwidth. Fibre is essential. A 4K TV stream needs in the region of 25mbps, 8K TV needs roughly four times as much. Let’s say 100mbps.

It’s wise to have some headroom, especially if you have family members who do their own digital thing. In other words, 8K TV is what gigabit fibre was made for. Don’t even consider anything other than an unlimited data plan, avid 8K watchers can expect to get close to a terabyte of data in a month.

New Zealand is lucky in this department. About three quarters of the population can get fibre, a little over half of those people have taken it up.

These bandwidth numbers have implications for people who don’t have fibre. You can probably get away with VDSL or a good fixed wireless broadband connection for 4K TV. Both technologies will be disappointing for 8K. And that’s before you look at data caps.

Wireless is not going to cut it

If you believe all the hype about 5G fixed wireless broadband, it may, on paper, be possible to run an 8K TV using the technology.

Don’t hold your breath. For now New Zealand 5G network coverage is, at best, patchy. Vodafone’s network reaches maybe 10 percent of the country. Spark’s 5G doesn’t even reach one percent.

Even if you are in the zone, it may take a few years for there to be enough 5G bandwidth to make 8K work for you.

One potential barrier is that 5G traffic is only fast enough over short distances. Which means you might not be watching 8K until there’s a 5G site on every lamppost down your street.

Tests show people can get speeds of greater than 100mbps on existing 5G networks. But keep in mind the tests are using uncontested bandwidth. And there’s no evidence these speeds can be maintained over the hour or two it takes to watch a movie.

8K TV with built-in 5G wireless?

You’d be taking a big risk spending tens of thousands on a TV which works fine at 10am, but sees wireless connection speed drop at 8pm when everyone else is online.

There is talk of 8K TV devices with built-in 5G. Nothing has been seen yet. Huawei has a track record making announcements that never come to anything tangible, so again, take the claims with a pinch of salt.

For 8K TV to be a practical proposition, it needs to be big and that means expensive. There needs to be more than demonstration content and you need to have a net connection fast enough to handle the data along with an unlimited data plan.

It’s going to be a while before most of us can get all those ducks in a row. The good news, is that when we can, the hardware will probably cost less than today.


  1. It’s a racing certainty someone reading this has one ↩︎
  2. Another ridiculous hype word. Quantum, infinity: Samsung’s marketing department is working its way through a high school Physics text book. ↩︎

More fiction than science

Science fiction doesn’t do a great job of predicting the future. When it comes to telecommunications, it does worse.

At the time of writing, Netflix is streaming Blade Runner, a classic science fiction movie from 1982.

Blade Runner is interesting because the action is set in 2019. In other words, it is a view from almost 40 years ago of how we live today.

What did it get right and what did it get wrong? Some things are way off target. Early on, the hero, Rick Deckard, meets a policeman driving a flying car. We’re not even remotely near driving flying cars in 2019.

That’s a huge miss.

Also early on, an advertisement floats overhead. Again, flying adverts are not an everyday feature of our lives. The nearest we get are banners floating behind light aircraft.

However, the advertising hoardings are giant screens. That is on the money. Large advertising screens are now a familiar sight in cities, although, thankfully, unlike in the film, they don’t project sound with their images.

Thanks to climate change, Los Angeles, the film’s setting, suffers constant rain. The writers were correct in predicting climate change, but we have heatwaves and storms, not constant downpours.

One flying advertisement encourages people to emigrate ‘off-world’. Travelling to the stars seems a tempting offer looking at the movie’s depiction of 2019 life.

But really? We still shoot rockets into the sky, but no-one has been back to the moon since 1972, let alone travelled the solar system or deeper into space.

And we know Blade Runner’s people travel beyond the solar system because later in the film one of the characters talks about seeing “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion”.

Then we get to the main theme of the movie: bio-engineered replicants. These aren’t robots in the usual sense, but artificial humans. We are nowhere near this kind of technology in 2019.

As an aside, the film is based on a 1968 book called Do androids dream of electric sheep? Androids play a large part in life today, but they’re not human-like, they are mobile phones.

This brings us to telecommunications. Where are the mobile phones that dominate 2019 life? Almost everybody in the real world has one.

It’s not as if mobile phones weren’t around in 1982. The first, albeit heavy and unwieldy models, were introduced in 1949. Motorola had practical commercial handsets in 1973.

And where is broadband or any other kind of digital service? In 1982, some homes had tele-text machines. And email started in the 1970s. I had a work email account in 1982. Sure, it was dial-up and extremely slow, but no-one in the film has anything remotely like internet access.

Blade Runner is entertaining and thought provoking, but as a foretaste of 2019 it doesn’t come close.

This story first appeared at The Download. Bill Bennett was writing about technology since before Blade Runner hit the screens.

Hats off the Vodafone for building New Zealand’s first meaningful 5G network.1

It’s a big step for New Zealand telecommunications and an even bigger step for Vodafone.

A year ago it looked like the company would be starved of the resources needed to make a significant 5G splash. That changed when Infratil and Brookfield fund a $3.5 billion split from the UK-based parent company.

100 Vodafone 5G sites open today

Today there are 100 sites. While this sounds good, in practice it means scattered pockets of 5G in a sea of 4G mobile coverage. Vodafone says it will upgrade the 4G sites to 5G-like speeds and increase the number of 5G sites to around 1500 in the next few years.

Performance on Vodafone’s initial network is impressive. This morning social media was full of screen shots showing handsets downloading at speeds of around 500mbps. Actually the screen shots showed download test sites, which amounts to the same thing.

Even so that is not the gigabit speeds that 5G companies have promised. In a media statement, technology director Tony Baird explained why this isn’t happening yet. He says:

“We’re using 3.5GHz spectrum to launch 5G, and our current radio spectrum holdings will mean that Vodafone customers see an uplift of up to 10 times current 4G speeds.

“However to reach the one gigabit speeds that we’re seeing internationally, we’ll need approximately 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum so will continue to work with the government on the early allocation and auction processes.”

It’s worth remembering today’s 5G is uncluttered. There’s almost no-one using it. That’s going to help early performance. The technology should cope better than 4G with lots of traffic, but we’re months away from that happening.

New 5G handset needed

You can’t just walk into a 5G zone and get high speed mobile broadband. You need to buy an expensive new handset first. There are two models at the moment. Both are from Samsung and both are Android models. If you can live with Android you’ll be good to go.

If other 5G equipped phones from other brands are on the way to New Zealand, the companies making them are keeping quiet about it. Realistically there won’t be a wide choice, and certainly not suitable iPhones until at least this time next year.

Premium price

By then Vodafone will charge a premium for 5G network access. The company says suitably equipped customers can use the 5G network at no extra cost until the end of June. From then they will need to pay an extra $10 a month for the service.

This echoes what happened in the early days of 4G. Although the premium didn’t last long once competition kicked in. This time Vodafone has at least six months start on its competitors, maybe much longer.

It may have been reasonable to ask 4G users to pay a premium, they got a noticeable performance upgrade. The practical benefits of upgrading to 5G will be less obvious to most phone customers.

Yes, they will see faster speeds. Videos will download faster. On paper you can browse faster.

Yet there are no practical mobile applications for ordinary users  that need extra speed. Not yet. 4G mobile has plenty of bandwidth to watch high resolution video on a handheld device. And when was the last time you hit a bottleneck browsing on 4G?

Gamers

Gamers may find something worth paying a premium for. They won’t see higher resolution, but they should see lower latency from using 5G.

That’s good, but $10 a month just to get a better gaming response seems a bit steep for all but the most hard-core gamers.

Unlike 4G, most of the benefit of 5G goes to Vodafone and its enterprise customers. The technology means many more paying customers can use cellular at the same time, which gives Vodafone an opportunity to sell more. It also gives the company shiny new things to sell, like network slices and internet-of-things services.

In that sense charging mobile users a premium is like asking supermarket shoppers to pay more because a new Pak’n Save is opening down the road.

If Vodafone is going to get non-business customers to upgrade their mobile and pay more, it needs a better reason than fast. Phones already do fast-enough with 4G.


  1. Spark’s handful of South Island fixed wireless sites pales in comparison. ↩︎

Vodafone’s 5G network is about to launch. Soon you’ll see marketing for 5G fixed wireless broadband marketing. Spark will no doubt follow.

Let’s step back for a moment and take a reality check.

There’s a lot to be said for 5G. It’s fast, energy efficient and has low latency. Carriers can pack in many more connections per square kilometre.

Most of the benefits of 5G will go to industrial users and to organisations that can make use of network slicing. That’s the ability to set aside bandwidth for private use. The other main beneficiaries will be the cellular companies who can sell more connections and cut running costs.

Machine to machine 5G

5G is ideal when machines talk to machine. It will make the internet-of-things sing and dance.

Yet it isn’t always the best broadband product for residential users. Many people will be better off sticking with wired connections.

In theory 5G can deliver fibre-like speeds. Overseas users see 300mbps or even a little higher. This is plenty for streaming video and other high bandwidth applications, but not enough if you have a digital household with many people sharing the same connection.

There’s another catch. Wireless connections are nothing like as reliable as fibre. If you need a consistent connection, say you have a monitoring application, you’ll soon run up against limitations. There are also stories of Netflix buffering like crazy in prime time when everyone on a tower goes online.

Line of sight

One other point, 5G is a line-of-sight service. There are nuances, but in general you need to see the cell tower to use it. In some cases overseas a connection that works fine in winter can stop working when there are leaves on the trees if those trees are in the wrong place.

You should consider 5G fixed wireless if:

  • You live near a 5G tower and can’t get fibre. You may be down a right of way or in an apartment where people are bloody-minded about running cable to your place.
  • You are off the fibre map1.
  • You have light broadband needs, don’t need a lot of bandwidth and reliability isn’t essential. Your home will struggle to run multiple streaming video sessions or handle big downloads at the same time.
  • The address isn’t permanent. Students and other short term residents might prefer a connection that can be up in seconds and taken with you when you leave.
  • You live in shared house and a shared broadband account is too hard to organise.

The irony is the New Zealanders who would most benefit from 5G fixed wireless broadband, that’s the people living on low density fringe areas and lifestyle blocks not served by fibre, are unlikely to get it early. They may get 5G later, but don’t hold your breath.


  1. Although, for now, that probably also means you off the 5G fixed wireless map ↩︎

Early next year Chorus will start rolling out Hyperfibre, that is faster fibre services of up to 4Gbps. Forget whether you might need that speed today and focus instead on what it says about fibre broadband.

Not many countries boast residential broadband services running faster than a gigabit per second. When I looked, I found seven. Perhaps there are ten.

Soon New Zealand will be one of them.

It turns out when government and industry are right when they remind us we have a world class broadband network. It isn’t just idle boasting.

Fibre is fast and reliable. It’s not expensive.

Hyperfibre shows it can go faster still. It’s the Porsche option, although without the price tag.

Chorus hasn’t announced the Hyperfibre wholesale tarrif yet, but it says it will be only a ‘modest premium’ on gigabit prices. That said, early buyers are likely to be business users willing to pay a premium for the extra speed.

At first Chorus will offer 2Gbps and 4Gbps services. An 8gbps service will come later. On paper the XGS-Pon standard being used can crank all the way up to 10Gbps.

Faster fibre is not for everyone. Few people other than movie and TV professionals need Hyperfibre speeds.

That’s really not the point. Having it available as an option is important. It tells us where things can go. If you need more speed, it’s there.

Marketing types might tell us it’s an aspirational thing. Perhaps. Yet it does get us thinking about faster fibre and what we might do with it.

If we’ve learnt one thing about data networks, it’s that what seems like more bandwidth than you ever need soon becomes not quite enough.

When the UFB project started, most users took 30mbps down, 10mbps up services. That quickly climbed to 100mbps plans. Today the majority of customers have 100mbps, but the fastest growing market is for 1gbps services.

We don’t need to go over the why would anyone need a 1Gbps service argument any more. A family with HD TV, Playstations and other devices can easily make use of the bandwidth.

Faster broadband means a better experience for everyone. If you shop around, it only costs the price of a coffee or two to move up to a faster plan.

Some of the talk after Chorus’ announcement pitched Hyperfibre as a counter to the fixed wireless threat. That’s the angle Chris Keall took for his NZ Herald story.

There’s no question that Spark and Vodafone will attempt to sell fixed wireless broadband as a fibre alternative. Yet few, if any, customers are going to make a choice between fixed wireless and Hyperfibre.

Fixed wireless is best for people who either can’t get fibre, have a difficult-to-connect home, or are happy with a basic, bare-bones and sometime slightly cheaper alternative1. Hyperfibre is for people bumping up against the limits of today’s 1Gbps fibre plans.


  1. Not much cheaper. The lowest cost 1Gbps fibre plan is $5 more than Spark’s cheapest fixed wireless plan ↩︎