Vodafone announced on Monday that it has partnered with telecommunications giant Nokia to roll out 5G for its customers. Beginning in the first half of 2020, the service will be available to all customers with a 5G-compatible phone, and importantly — it won't cost customers any extra.
Vodafone confirmed to Gizmodo Australia customers won't be charged extra for 5G access. "We will be announcing our 5G plans early next year and we have no plans to charge customers extra to use 5G," a Vodafone spokesperson said via email, making Vodafone the first mobile network provider to confirm 5G service for no extra cost in Australia.
Telstra, on the other hand, announced once its complimentary 12 month access has finished, customers on all but the top two plans will be charged $15/month extra for 5G access.
In a release, Vodafone outlined an array of services provided in the new deal, including 5G radio access network (RAN), IP/Optical, Microwave, deployment, managed services and other software. The detailed partnership with Nokia has enabled the fast tracking of Vodafone's planned foray into 5G, with test infrastructure now being repurposed for the new network.
The path to 5G has been a rocky one for Vodafone, with its initial plans to partner with TPG and its now-canned $600 million mobile network significantly delaying their planned rollout.
This came after an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ruling in May 2019 that blocked the planned merger between Vodafone and TPG on the grounds that it would lessen competition in the national mobile network market and increase unfair restrictions on consumers.
While Vodafone and TPG announced that they would take legal action against the ACCC ruling in May and extended their merger agreement to August 2020 to allow due legal process, nothing further appears to have come of this battle.
In a statement provided to Gizmodo Australia, Vodafone confirmed "a new 5G vendor was required as a result of the Government’s 5G security guidance issued in August 2018."
5G networks have become a contentious issue over the last few years, with the Australian Government focussing on the technology's potential to cause national security issues. In a 2018 statement, former Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield issued the following statement regarding the security and safety of 5G network developments:
The Government wants to create an environment that allows Australian businesses to be at the forefront of seizing the benefits of 5G across the economy.
To achieve this, the Government is fostering a policy and regulatory environment to support a more efficient rollout, given its potential benefits to the economy.
The Government has undertaken an extensive review of the national security risks to 5G networks.
5G requires a change in the way the network operates compared to previous mobile generations. These changes will increase the potential for threats to our telecommunications networks, and these threats will increase over time as more services come online.
This stance led the Australian Government to block access to 5G networks for Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei on the grounds of national security, demonstrating the new, rigorous guidelines for establishing 5G networks in the country.
As Vodafone and Nokia's media release made clear, these guidelines reshaped the development of their 5G network.
With a scalable 5 year agreement and advanced 5G roadmap now in place, the network rollout is well on its way. As it stands, the current plan is that all spectrum bands currently being used for 4G will be 5G enabled, and will work alongside new 5G MIMO antennas for increased coverage.
The commercial rollout is expected to begin in the first half of 2020, beginning in "select parts" of Sydney's Parramatta.