Canberra, Brisbane the first to get Optus' 5G services
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Canberra, Brisbane the first to get Optus' 5G services

Homes and businesses in Canberra and Brisbane will be the first to have access to Singtel Optus' high-speed 5G network in January, with other cities to follow by March.

Optus has now completed 5G live trials in Sydney, with fixed-wireless broadband services to be released in a matter of months. This will allow Australians to access 5G speeds through wireless home internet, such as on mobiles and laptops on Wi-Fi, ahead of a mobile rollout expected around the second half of 2019.

Optus CEO Allen Lew has announced rollout plans for 5G as early as January.

Optus CEO Allen Lew has announced rollout plans for 5G as early as January.Credit:Peter Hardin

Singtel Optus chief executive Allen Lew has been tight-lipped about likely equipment providers since the government banned China-based businesses from participating in Australia’s 5G rollout in August.

An early 5G trial on the Gold Coast was undertaken in partnership with China's Huawei in April. Huawei has a long relationship with Optus, however, it’s understood that Optus has been trialling other providers’ equipment since the ban.

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A source close to Huawei confirmed the provider was not involved with an Optus trial of 5G in September. Huawei, the world's largest maker of telecommunications network equipment, is unable to participate in Australia's fifth-generation network build due to security concerns about the way 5G will be linked to critical infrastructure, including power and water networks, and the possibility of foreign influence.

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Mr Lew said Huawei would continue to be the provider of the network’s 4G service, with more base stations to be installed, but said the government had made its stance about which providers could participate in the 5G rollout “very clear”. Huawei is also a supplier for Vodafone's 4G network.

Optus has upgraded 5990 of its 7011 4G mobile sites to 700 Mhz spectrum, which provides greater coverage on 4G, with 6.39 million customers using 4G services by September 30.

The fifth-generation "5G" in mobile connectivity has long been expected to open up virtual and augmented reality real-time gaming and applications, and to spur on the "internet of things".

Rival telco Telstra recently joined with Swedish provider Ericsson for its own 5G build, after completing a Gold Coast-based trial of the technology, while Finnish Nokia is now widely speculated to be a frontrunner for Optus.

"Right now we have not announced who will be our 5G provider," Mr Lew said.

Optus's net profit after tax fell 36.6 per cent in the three months to September 30, compared with the same quarter the year before, and 20.3 per cent for the half year. Excluding migration payments relating to the national broadband network, underlying net profit was up 3.1 per cent for the six months and 5.5 per cent for the quarter.

Despite this, operating revenue increased 6 per cent to $4.38 billion on the back of more mobile customers.

Greater competition in mobile has led to decreasing prices and increasing data inclusions, squeezing the margins for telcos at the same time as they try to hold on to customers during the NBN rollout. This has made 5G a major focus for mobile network providers, which are looking to provide additional services around connected devices for businesses and homes to bolster earnings.

Jennifer Duke writes about media and telecommunications.

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