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Spark begins NZ's 5G roll out in Otago

Spark has launched 5G wireless broadband in New Zealand to customers in Alexandra, Central Otago, with another five towns on the list to receive the improved services before Christmas this year.

The move to switch on 5G will complete Spark’s biggest upgrade across its wireless network, with capacity enhanced by approximately 80% over the past two years, the company says.

This includes new cell sites and the rollout of 4.5G, which enhances network performance and capacity relative to conventional 4G, Spark says.

Spark technology director Mark Beder, says Alexandra is the beginning of Spark’s regional roll out of 5G with a plan to bring 5G wireless broadband services to another five heartland New Zealand towns before Christmas 2019, then other locations early next year. Access to these 5G services will initially be by invitation only.

Beder says, “For over a year we’ve been working hard to prepare for 5G, including adding over 150 new mobile sites and extensively upgrading our existing network to 4.5G, to take advantage of the more efficient use of spectrum and greater capacity that 4.5G provides. We’ve now reached the point where invited customers can start experiencing some of the real benefits of 5G.”

He says, “We believe that the first meaningful use-case for 5G will be increasing the capacity and speed of wireless broadband offerings. So we chose Alexandra to start 5G services as it has one of the highest uptake rates in the country for Spark’s existing wireless broadband product.

"Spark continues to see 50% year on year data growth on its network, so the improved data efficiency offered by 5G - through better use of available spectrum - is compelling."

“We believe that 5G will evolve to use multiple bands of spectrum, so we’re optimising our current spectrum assets and working on the latest technology advancements to make best use of the spectrum we currently have. Over the next six months, we will roll out a mixture of 5G and further improvements to our 4G network in major centres," says Beder.

“Initial testing in Alexandra has shown speeds for 5G wireless broadband of five to 10 times faster than for 4G wireless broadband in the same location,” he says.

In Alexandra, Spark 5G is live in the offices of Xerra Earth Observation Institute. Xerra uses data from satellites orbiting the earth to build identification, monitoring and reporting tools that provide insights to industry, business and government.

Xerra CEO Steve Cotter, says 5G is a game changer.

He says, “One of our biggest challenges to grow as a regional startup has been, since day one, poor connectivity. We work with large data sets and it used to take us up to four hours to download one image. Now, with 5G, we can do it in a matter of minutes.

"This is the kind of connectivity required to run a world-class science research institute in regional New Zealand. For us, it means people can enjoy a Central Otago lifestyle, but also pursue a rewarding data-intensive scientific career. And it’s a key to growing greater prosperity in the regions."

Otago District Council chief executive Sanchia Jacobs, says it’s a great opportunity for Alexandra to experience 5G.

Jacobs says, “It is a technological leap forward that will reset the boundaries of just what can be done and enable new businesses to establish here. Most importantly, it takes us a step closer to those people who can work from any location in the world to choose to work in Central Otago.

"The Council is looking forward to working with Spark to offer the community the opportunity to try this new technology by installing a 5G modem at the Alexandra Library.”

A further three customers now also have access to 5G connectivity. Spark’s 5G network in Alexandra is using spectrum from the 2600MHz band, a band currently used in other parts of the country for 4G.

Beder says, “We’ve used our own 2600 MHz spectrum allocation and have worked with Dense Air, a large 2600 MHz spectrum holder in New Zealand to enable us to deploy 5G services. 5G has already launched in this band in the USA, and will be a major 5G band in Asia. This has allowed us to set up a 5G network for a limited number of customers in Alexandra with more locations to come. We will continue to deliver 4G services to Alexandra, but over our other spectrum bands.”

“We’re pleased to be able to deliver 5G over the 2600 MHz spectrum in Alexandra as it is a great way to demonstrate the possibilities, but our preference will always be C band (3500 MHz) as we believe this will be the primary spectrum band for mass deployment of 5G. Acquiring enough C band spectrum is an important requirement for all wireless network operators,” he says.

Dense Air CEO Paul Senior, says they are pleased to be working with Spark to enable 2600 MHz 5G services in New Zealand. Dense Air provides a solution to enable wireless operators’ networks to be used in both rural and urban centres through the use of Dense Air’s own spectrum.

“We are very pleased to be working with Spark on the launch of 5G services in New Zealand. The deployment in Alexandra is a template for the deployment of next generation 5G based broadband services into regions around New Zealand,” says Senior.

The Spark 5G network in Alexandra uses the latest Nokia 5G radio equipment including a smart antenna system, which will provide improved capacity and coverage compared to 4G, according to the company.