Optus has fired a warning shot at NBN Co, unveiling plans to offer high-speed fixed wireless services in key metro areas based on 5G technology.
The telco today said it intended to start rolling out its 5G network in Australia “by early 2019”.
However, rather than being a straight mobile play, it will begin by offering a fixed wireless product aimed at city users.
Telcos have been emboldened to build out fixed wireless networks over the past year because the government considers mobile networks generally not to be competitive to its NBN build - and therefore they remain unencumbered by anti-compete measures.
To date, providers building out their own NBN-like services using fixed wireless have been in regional and rural areas, targeting NBN blackspots or areas where NBN Co’s services are slow or unreliable.
The entry of a much larger player into the fixed wireless space could force the government to reconsider its stance.
The government’s line continues to be that fixed wireless and mobile services aren’t considered direct NBN competitors because they can’t match the download quotas or prices.
In that regard it is still too early to know whether Optus will be able to create a compelling enough offer to tempt metro users away from fixed-line alternatives.
However, Optus isn’t alone in seeing wireless and mobile as a future substitute.
This time last year, rival Telstra switched on gigabit LTE speeds in five CBD zones.
Optus suggested that its own fixed wireless offering would target similar peak performance.
It said its decision to begin a 5G build “follows the launch of a successful outdoor trial for 5G new radio (NR), which showed 2Gbps download speeds using a potential device for a fixed wireless service in the home and business".
“As we continue to develop Optus 5G technologies and prepare for deployment in 2019, it is also important to ensure people understand the capabilities it can offer, and how it is able to benefit their day-to-day lives,” Optus’ managing director of networks Dennis Wong said in a statement.
Though NBN Co - more so than the government - recognises the threat of fixed wireless and mobile to its future business, it also sees 5G as an opportunity.
The government-backed network builder last year said it was exploring to what extent its commercial agreements with Telstra would preclude it from augmenting portions of its fixed-line network with some form of 5G service.
Optus’ decision to move on 5G also follows 3GPP’s ratification of the first set of global 5G standards at the end of last year.
Despite Optus’ assertions that “3GPP has finalised most parts of the worldwide standardisation of 5G technologies”, the industry body still has some way to go before its efforts are complete.
The ratified pieces relate to 5G networks that are built on top of existing 4G networks; there is still no agreement yet on how telcos should build standalone 5G networks where they don’t have an LTE legacy.
Optus said its 5G trials to date used “both C-band and mmWave” spectrum.
“C-band is within the same spectrum range of Optus’ 3.5GHz, which has been earmarked for 5G deployment,” the telco said.
Optus snapped up $6.5 million of extra 3.5GHz spectrum at the government's auction at the end of last year. It earmarked its use for forthcoming 5G services in Sydney and Melbourne.
Millimetre-wave, on the other hand, is viewed as a future 5G band that can support higher-speeds and high-capacity workloads. It refers to the spectrum between 30GHz and 300GHz.
Optus has some experience selling wireless products aimed as fixed-line substitutes. Back in mid-2016 it revived the Unwired brand it bought back in 2012 and renamed it Vividwireless.
The service runs on Optus’ 4G LTE network and is speed-limited, but has a choice of 200GB or unlimited data quotas.