Spark New Zealand outlined its 5G rollout schedule, announcing plans to open a 5G innovation lab in late 2018, boost wireless network investment as much as 40 per cent annually and launch services in 2020.
MD Simon Moutter expects wireless capex to be between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of overall capex by 2020, up from 25 per cent in the year ended 30 June 2017. That would represent annual wireless network investment of NZD100 million ($66.7 million) to NZD140 million, compared with an average of just over NZD100 million in the five years to that date.
The country’s second-largest mobile operator will fund 5G development (excluding spectrum and any move towards widespread rollout of new cell sites using high-frequency mmWave spectrum) within its existing capex target of 11 per cent to 12 per cent of revenue.
Moutter said its technical and network planning for 5G is advancing after successfully conducting outdoor and indoor trials earlier this year.
“We are undertaking detailed planning to map expected 5G cell site densities and, as a result of this planning, we are forming a good understanding of how many new sites we will need for 5G, and where. We have already begun a build programme to increase the number of cell sites in our existing mobile network – which will enable us to meet near-term capacity demand as well as lay the groundwork for network densification required for 5G.”
He said 5G will enable Spark to provide additional capacity at a lower incremental unit cost than under 4G and 4.5G: “This means that once 5G is available to deploy, we will have a strong commercial incentive to rapidly build 5G network capability as the primary means of keeping ahead of growing customer demand for more data at faster speeds.”
The innovation lab will be located in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct, which will allow partner companies to test and develop applications over a pre-commercial 5G network, the operator said.
Moutter noted Spark is already making decisions that are contingent on securing additional 5G spectrum and is having to make those decisions in the absence of any clear government policy on when spectrum will be available or in what bands.
He said the allocation processes for the two most likely spectrum bands – mid-frequency C-band and high-frequency mmWave – should be completed as soon as possible to ensure 5G services can be delivered in time for the 2021 America’s Cup in Auckland as an international showcase opportunity.
In addition to these bands, low-frequency spectrum (sub-1GHz) will be required to deliver 5G services on a pervasive basis into rural areas (outside of small provincial towns), he said.
The executive added it is important for policymakers to recognise 5G is not a standalone technology or solution: “It will operate together with previous generations of wireless technology and will be deployed as an overlay of existing network infrastructure. Therefore, policy settings need to support network operators having control over the evolution of their wireless networks,” he explained.