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Spark launches 5G offensive

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 22 November 2018, 8:59 am

Spark is aiming to have its 5G network live by 1 July 2020, in time for the America's Cup the following year. The announcement was made by the telco at the opening of its 5G test lab at a co-working office space in Wynyard Quarter in Auckland this week.

Spark Managing Director Simon Moutter says the test lab is an opportunity for New Zealand businesses to learn more about the products and services that will be enabled by 5G technology, and businesses are invited to sign up for a tour.

"The Spark 5G Lab is primarily designed to give New Zealand companies - our customers and partners - access to a 5G network so they can experiment with live 5G technology. We want to be the easiest company to work with, with the most collaborative team, and with the best network. We are basing some of our engineers at the lab and will have technical support and a working space available for our customers and partners to come in and collaborate with us on co-creating the 5G future."   

The lab will also "host technologies that showcase some of the possibilities and benefits of 5G such as robotics, virtual reality, facial recognition, Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, emergency services drones and driverless cars."

In a Government paper issued earlier this year entitled, Preparing for 5G in New Zealand, 5G is described at a step change in mobile telecommunications with peak data rates of up to 20Gbps and fast response times (latency) of 1 millisecond. Although it is likely to require double the number of existing cell sites in urban areas, the pay-off is that 5G will enable technologies such as self-driving cars.

As with all new generations of mobile technology, the 5G launch will be dependent on the availability of spectrum, which Spark expects to be auctioned by the Government in 2019.  According to the paper citied above, the Government has identified 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands as high on the consideration list, with the former as the "top priority band for allocation for 5G".

As tech commentator Bill Bennett points out on Radio NZ today, Spark appears keen to press ahead with its 5G offensive ahead of the spectrum allocation for a number of reasons including getting the jump on the competition and negotiating a deal with equipment suppliers before the Government makes the decision on whether Huawei technology can be used in building the next generation of cellular networks. 

Spark's 5G lab was launched with Emirates Team New Zealand, which is based nearby. Head of Design Dan Bernasconi notes that "reduced latency and higher bandwidth means that through the on-water testing stage the Emirates Team New Zealand designers back at base will be able to get data and analytics in real-time."

"This will make a huge difference. In Bermuda our designers had to spend hundreds of hours out on the water on chase boats close to the yacht in order to get data to then upload and analyse once they were back on shore. From there, they would look at what needed to be done for the next test day," he says.

"With 5G our design-thinking can evolve faster, allowing us to explore more design options and buy us more of one of the most precious commodities in the America's Cup - time. This could be a game changer for us." 



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