Spark, the second largest mobile operator in New Zealand, started the countdown to a 5G launch by opening what it said is the country’s first interactive 5G test lab.

The facility is located near Auckland Harbour, the first location of what the operator said will be New Zealand’s first commercial 5G network that it plans to light on 1 July 2020.

In a statement, Spark MD Simon Moutter said the laboratory is a key step “on the roadmap to the next generation of mobile technology”. The opening of the facility “marks the first time in New Zealand that a true 5G pre-commercial network will be turned on and available for Kiwi businesses to explore, learn and create products that will define the future of 5G”, he added.

The first partner to make use of the laboratory is New Zealand-based sailing squad Emirates Team New Zealand. Team bosses said access to the next-generation network will play a key role in its defence of the America’s Cup yacht race in 2021, by slashing the complexity of gathering data during on-water testing of their craft.

Spark engineers will be on hand in the lab to offer technical support to customers and partners developing products, and the site will also host technologies showcasing some of the possibilities and benefits of 5G including robotics; VR; facial recognition; IoT; smart cities; emergency services drones; and driverless cars.

“We believe that most of the amazing things you can do with 5G are yet to be invented, so it is crucial we collaborate with businesses”, Moutter said.