21 September 2016
by Lucy Battersby

Telstra trials 5G mobile network, the next 'quantum leap' in technology

The 5G equipment, tested by Telstra, uses hundreds of small antenna.

Telstra's first field trial of 5G mobile technology reached speeds of 20 gigabits per second on Tuesday, fast enough to download 600 high-quality movies a minute.

Looking into the future – when movie files could reach 100 gigabytes for ultra high definition (4k) visuals – users will be able to download the entire film in 40 seconds on a mobile device.

"This is the first 5G trial on Australian soil, and the outdoor nature of the test has provided a true sense of what 5G will be able to offer customers once it is launched commercially," Telstra's chief technology officer, Philip Jones, said.

While the technology and handsets are unlikely to be available until at least 2020, Telstra is already working on equipment standards and future spectrum needs with regulators and manufacturers.

The 5G equipment uses hundreds of small antenna, which can each send direct beams more powerful than today's dispersed signals, he explained. Telstra tested the signals using generous amounts of very high frequency spectrum at 15 gigahertz, a frequency currently used for space research, astronomy, defence and satellite operations.

"During the outdoor trial we saw total download speeds [to two mobiles] of greater than 20 gigabits per second [Gbps], so there's no doubt 5G is going to be a lot faster than today's mobile networks, but it will also deliver a much lower latency. The test bed used 800 megahertz of spectrum in a previously unattainable, high-frequency band, which is 10 times more spectrum than we use with our 4G service," Mr Wright said.

Theoretically, Tuesday's test shows gigabit speeds could be available on a mobile up to 100 kilometres away from the nearest tower, Mr Wright said.

'Buffering' while streaming videos will be a thing of the past with 5G.

However, expanding 5G to regional areas may depend on an upcoming regulatory decision after Telstra's chief executive warned on Monday the telco's multi-billion-dollar mobile investment program may change if the competition watchdog proceeds with plans to let non-Telstra customers roam on to its regional mobile network.

Tuesday's 5G test test used equipment from Swedish vendor Ericsson, Telstra's mobile equipment partner. Ericsson's chief technology officer in Asia Pacific, Dr Magnus Ewerbring said "these early 5G trials will help drive the global standards that will ultimately cover 5G".

"Running trials with our 5G radio prototype in different environments across the globe provides important feedback on trial conclusions to our research teams. In addition to the Telstra 5G trials, Telstra engineers were embedded with our researchers in Sweden, providing direct input to our 5G research and product development," he added.

Meanwhile the UK Vodafone Group recently partnered with Nokia to test 5G and develop standards, similar to Telstra's relationship with Ericsson. Getting international agreement on standards and spectrum reduces equipment and handset costs and ensures the technology works in all countries.