New Zealand’s two largest operators Spark and Vodafone kicked off limited 5G launch and testing.

Spark New Zealand turned on 5G service in Alexandra for a limited number of enterprise and consumer customers, with plans to expand the next-generation network to an additional five towns before the end of the year and other locations in early 2020.

The operator’s 5G network in Alexandra, Central Otago, runs on the 2.6GHz band and uses Nokia’s 5G radio equipment, including a smart antenna system.

Mark Beder, Spark’s technology director, said: “We’re pleased to be able to deliver 5G over the 2600MHz spectrum in Alexandra as it is a great way to demonstrate the possibilities, but our preference will always be C band (3500MHz) as we believe this will be the primary spectrum band for mass deployment of 5G. Acquiring enough C band spectrum is an important requirement for all wireless network operators.”

The move to switch on 5G comes as Spark completes an upgrade across its wireless network, with the capacity increased about 80 per cent over the past two years.

“For over a year we’ve been working hard to prepare for 5G, including adding over 150 new mobile sites and extensively upgrading our existing network to 4.5G, to take advantage of the more efficient use of spectrum and greater capacity that 4.5G provides. We’ve now reached the point where invited customers can start experiencing some of the real benefits of 5G,” Beder said.

Spark continues to see 50 per cent year-on-year data growth.

Vodafone trials in Addington
Meanwhile rival Vodafone New Zealand started 5G testing at Addington Racecourse in Christchurch, where a mobile cell site was upgraded by Nokia with 5G-enabled antennas.

It follows tests on five sites, located in and around Mangere in South Auckland.

The operator plans to switch on its commercial network in December, when it aims to have 100 sites around New Zealand upgraded to 5G.

Sharina Nisha, head of platforms at Vodafone New Zealand, said: “Our network build has been progressing well and we’re pleased to announce that testing for our first South Island 5G site is underway.”

Nisha said it will upgrade a number of existing cell sites in Christchurch over the coming months, which will include both 5G and 4.5G technology installations.