Rural areas still in the dark on 5G service

5G benefits still an enigma in the bush

Editorial
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Government, telcos yet to fill in the 5G gaps for farms and country towns.

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For more than two years, The Land has reported the expected gaps in rural and regional areas to come with the proposed 5G network, set to kick off next year - and submissions to the government inquiry into 5G have raised these concerns once more.

Chief among them is to obtain the benefit of the higher frequency signal that comes with 5G, more towers are needed, which means more cost.

This remains a problem for low population density areas (i.e. farms and small towns), because they lack commercial attractiveness.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association of Australia (WISPA) first raised this issue through The Land in November 2017 ("Government $1.9 billion sell-off may ignite digital bush black-out", theland.com.au November 24, 2017).

This was prior to the auction for bandwidth that was held during November and December 2018 for licences in the 3.6 gigahertz spectrum from March 30, 2020, to December 13, 2030.

Chinese telco Huawei (which Prime Minister Scott Morrison won't let build the new network due to security reasons) also raised this issue in its submission to the inquiry ("Country kids and farms left behind without 5G", The Land, December 19, p21).

RELATED READING:Inquiry into 5G technology garners multiple submissions and opinions

In March last year, WISPA told The Land the 5G rollout would mean mobile access for large regional centres with a critical mass of customers who could attract investment, while many smaller towns and residences would miss out.

Huawei, in its submission, said it was concerned rural and regional customers would receive limited or no service, while Telstra (the largest by far of the successful bidders, forking out just over $386 million) did not commit to a complete 5G roll-out in regional areas without significant government subsidisation and made no mention of plans to roll out the stand alone technology in rural or remote areas.

(Telstra, Optus and Mobile JV were the successful bidders for regional NSW).

WISPA previously had raised concerns about access to infrastructure, saying one solution could be to include infrastructure sharing options, but Telstra knocked this idea on the head in its submission.

So, with the Coalition government continuing to push ahead with its 5G rollout plans, rural and regional Australia remain in the dark with regard to answers about the level of service it will receive.

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