GSMA THRIVE CHINA 2020: Telstra chief Andrew Penn (pictured) outlined a shift in the operator’s 5G strategy, with the next phase of its deployment set to focus on mmWave to boost capacity and data rates in high-density areas.

The CEO said mmWave will “supercharge 5G because its bandwidth allows greater capacity, particularly in high-density locations, making it ideal for high-speed wireless services”.

Telstra launched launched 5G service on the 3.6GHz band in May 2019 and commenced trials in the 26GHz band in February with Ericsson and Qualcomm. Penn said it now has three active test sites at its 5G Innovation Centre.

It is also looking to trial mmWave at one of Australia’s major sporting stadiums later this year to assess performance in high-capacity, high-density settings. “Real-world testing is helping us understand how the technology works and interacts with the complete ecosystem environment, including devices, networks and content.”

Penn expects mmWave frequencies to be available in early 2021 when the Australian Communications and Media Authority is scheduled to hold an auction of 26GHz spectrum.

Opensignal data showed average download speeds on commercial mmWave 5G networks were significantly higher than those on low- or mid-band frequencies.

Penn said Telstra’s 5G service now covered parts of 47 cities, ahead of its original target of 35 by end-June, with more than 8 million Australians in the coverage area.

The operator experienced a dramatic increase in use of many services during Covid-19 (coronavirus) restrictions: Penn noted many governments now see acceleration of the digital economy as crucial to a quick recovery.

As a result, telecoms is “arguably the world’s most important infrastructure. The quality of our networks is, therefore, more important than ever before, and that obviously includes 5G”.