Telstra prepares to use low-band spectrum for 5G coverage boost

CEO says telco will begin using lower band spectrum to help boost 5G over the “next 12 months or so”

Telstra chief executive Andy Penn has told a shareholder meeting that the telco plans to make use of some of its lower band spectrum holdings over the “next 12 months or so” to help boost its 5G services.

5G services are anticipated to eventually be delivered over mid-band, low-band and high-band frequencies.

Australia’s initial 5G services are based on 3.5GHz spectrum, which was auctioned off last year. Both Optus and Telstra earlier this year launched 5G services using the band.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has indicated it intends to auction so-called “millimetre wave” (or mmWave) spectrum towards the end of 2020, Penn noted today.

The ACMA is currently proposing a hybrid-use licensing model for the 26GHz band, which is expected to be the first mmWave spectrum telcos will get their hands on; Telstra and Optus also won’t the regulator to leave the door open to 5G services in the 28GHz band.

In a submission earlier this year to a consultation on the ACMA’s five-year spectrum outlook, Telstra said that spectrum “in the 900 MHz and the 850 MHz expansion bands is a highly valuable resource for the delivery of mobile broadband services due to its wide coverage characteristics and potential use for 5G”.

The ACMA is currently assessing the future configuration of the 900MHz band. “Like other spectrum in the other sub-1 GHz bands, it has excellent propagation characteristics for coverage and in-building penetration,” Telstra argued in a submission to the regulator. “It is vital that the spectrum in this band is allocated in a way that maximises the benefits to the community.”

The telco supports reconfiguring the 900MHz GSM band into paired 5MHz channels to “allow for more efficient use of the spectrum”. Spectrum in the band should be brought to market in a “coordinated manner” with spectrum in the 850MHz expansion band, Telstra said.

Telstra already has 5G devices in the hands of “tens of thousands of customers” Penn said today. “We’re already getting some really positive feedback in terms of [that] experience.”

The telco currently offers 5G coverage in parts of 10 cities, with Penn reiterating that the company plans to expand its 5G footprint to 35 cities in the next 12 months as well as increase its coverage area by “about five-fold”.

“We really are at the serious end of 5G,” the CEO said.

“As with 4G, we believe that as 5G rolls out customers will be willing to pay more to access this new and exciting technology and the great benefits that it brings,” Penn said.

Telstra has said it plans to eventually add a monthly surcharge for access to 5G speeds.

The technology will open up access to new revenue streams, Penn said, as well as deliver capital efficiency by reducing the cost per bit of data traveling across Telstra’s network.