As it gears up to test mmWave 5G for the first time and seriously boosts the range of its 4G LTE network, Telstra's also looking to a future where it can differentiate 5G services on features – and price.
Telstra is gearing up for the next phase in its 5G network rollout across Australia, announcing today that it's been granted a licence by the ACMA to begin customer field trials of 26Ghz mmWave 5G. That's the level of 5G rollout that should enable the kinds of Gigabit-plus speeds that we've been so hyped about for just about as long as 5G has been a viable term.
Telstra is currently standing alone in being the only Australian 5G-ready telco that has explicitly said it intends to charge extra for access to 5G for all but the top tier of its 5G plans.
That additional capacity of 5G mmWave brings with it a range of speed and latency benefits, and it's that kind of thinking that's behind Telstra's position on charging for 5G access.
Or, as it may evolve, charging different rates for different kinds of 5G access.
Gizmodo Australia asked Telstra CEO Andy Penn specifically if its position on 5G given the rollout of mmWave alongside its existing mid-band 5G devices – like the HTC 5G Hub or Oppo Reno 5G, to name just a few – could lead the telco to providing different types of 5G access at different prices. This was his response:
"5G enables the concept of network slicing and other dynamic management tools where we can provide a specific quality of service for different use cases and different customers, whether they're consumer customers or business customers"
"Absolutely, we see multiple commercial models, where for example, something like latency and jitter are more important for gamers, but may not be as important for doing something like standard definition streaming. In enterprise situations, latency is particularly critical in robotics."
"So you can see how we can construct particular service offerings with different quality of service using 5G, and yes, we will have differing models."
Which certainly sounds like, once it can, Telstra will provide different speed, latency and jitter packages based on your need and naturally the size of your wallet.
Telstra won't actually be able to start selling mmWave 5G services for some time, mind you. The ACMA isn't set to even begin the auction of the necessary spectrum until the first quarter of 2021, and Telstra will be competing in the bidding against the likes of Optus and the freshly-merged TPG/Vodafone when it does.
Still, Telstra is highly optimistic about the takeup rates of 5G in the meantime.
"We will see faster adoption of 5G than we did of 4G," Telstra CEO Andy Penn said in the media call.
Although he does rather expect that to take on a life of its own when and if Apple gets into the 5G device game.
"There's a certain other company in Cupertino that has yet to launch a 5G device. If that happens this year that would be very significant," he said.
There are plenty of companies based in Cupertino, it's true – Seagate, for example is run from there – but I'm quietly confident he means Apple.
Want to be in on the 5G mmWave trials? You'll have to be lucky; Telstra says it'll be rolling out 5G mmWave in "in selected areas initially", and it's almost certainly going to be a matter of being asked by Telstra to participate rather than pestering the big T for some of those sweet, sweet mmWave 5Gs.
As 5G gets faster, Telstra's 4G goes further
At the same time that it's bursting through with 5G mmWave, Telstra's also announced that it's been able to significantly increase the effective range of its 4G LTE towers in regional and rural areas.
The 3GPP standard for 4G LTE reach extends to 100km, but through software tweaks Telstra's managed to boost that in real world situations up to a fairly astonishing 200km.
However, it's keen to point out that the new 4G capability isn't a "magic pill" that will make all of its 4G network in regional and rural areas immediately better, pointing more to its ability to work with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors more than mobile devices.
"Obviously, extending the coverage distance with 4G will help," Paul Milford, Networks Principal, Mobile Innovation Rollout at Telstra said.
"But this is not a magic pill to double our coverage. I wish it was! This is a very important option for us, but we're looking at specific coverage scenarios and options to deploy this technology. There will be specific cases that this will be brilliant for, but it's not a fix-all, and it's just another one of the options in our toolkit."
Milford did note that 4G mobiles may have some benefits in areas where Telstra does roll out improved 4G, but that the higher power rates needed for mobile transmission would make this more marginal, and that the longer distance benefits would be more seen in low-power iOT sensors.