Earlier this year Telstra significantly changes its mobile plans, with an emphasis placed on bolt-on services.
The narrative around this choice was to not charge customers for services they don't want. One of these services is access to 5G, which customers on lower tiered plans will need to pay an extra $15 a month for after June 30, 2020.
Today Optus officially launched its own 5G offerings, so we were wondering if they too would charge for 5G in the future. They didn't say no.
Today Optus became the second telco is Australia to launch 5G. While Optus has been trialling 5G home broadband since earlier in the year and recently began stocking 5G-enabled phones, it's now official. But it still can't guarantee that 5G will work indoors.
At the present time, all Telstra customers with a 5G-enabled device have free access to its 5G network in areas where it actually works.
And Optus is following suit. 5G is included in its Samsung Galaxy Note 10 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Oppo Reno 5G plans.
But that could potentially change in the future. When Gizmodo Australia asked Optus CEO Allen Lew about charging customers for 5G connectivity in the future, he didn't rule it out.
"As a network operator we're always looking at how we can monetise our investments, but we also need to look at the customer experience and what we're delivering for customers before we get too enthusiastic about charging them for all sorts of things," said Lew.
"This is something we'll watch very carefully and we're very conscious of the fact that we should put the customers first. At the right time we'll talk about charging customers, but today it is more about making sure that the people who want the technology and faster broadband at home get those services."
There's been a slew of 5G news coming out of Telstra this week - from Samsung's 5G Galaxy S10 arriving on the network to its launch of the world's first 5G hotspot. In the wake of this new hardware, Telstra CEO Andy Penn revealed in an blog post the company will be offering, at a minimum, 5G for free during its first year of connectivity. However, after this point some customers will be charged to access it. Gizmodo Australia reached out to Telstra for further clarity.
It's unsurprising that telcos may want to recoup some of the money invested into their respective 5G networks.
Investment in spectrum lots alone has cost a fortune, with Telstra spending $386,008,400 for 143 lots and Optus paying $185,069,100 for 47. Taking into account the cost of the physical rollout, as well as however much telcos bid for the recently announced mmWave spectrum, the cost would be astronomical.
But it's also not the first G network. Aussie telcos have been through this a few times before and didn't overtly charge customers extra to access those networks. Of course, it's possible that plan prices were merely raised to cover costs instead.
Still, it does raise the question of whether Aussies should have to pay more for what should be considered basic infrastructure. The question mark becomes even larger when you consider that Telstra is only offering 5G for free until June 2020 when it will most likely be more available, stable and fast. There isn't much use in a free trial if you can barely use it.
It's particularly interesting that Telstra CEO Andy Penn recently stated that NBN pricing puts the sustainability of the industry at risk while his own company plans to charge some customers extra for an alternative.
While we're yet to find out whether Optus will take a similar path to its telco cousin, today's statements leaves us with no doubt that it's a strong possibility. We certainly hope not and are looking forward to the day when internet is treated like the essential utility it is, as opposed to a privilege.