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What is 5G? And just how fast is it?

2G, 3G, 4G, now 5G? Here’s what you need to know about the newest generation of wireless technology.

One of the most anticipated launches in the telecommunications industry saw 5G become live near the end of 2019, making New Zealand the 22nd country in the world to introduce the new technology. However, the rollout is in its initial stages, and only a select amount of people have access. Therefore, there is still some confusion about what 5G actually is and what it promises for the future of the Internet.

5G can be utilised for mobile and wireless fixed broadband services. While the basic technology is the same as 4G and 3G, it can carry far more data, which means that it can change the way we live through more reliable connection, super-fast downloads and minimal latency. Plus, the potential to do more with our Internet than we could before.

Which providers offer 5G?

Currently, only two New Zealand providers offer 5G:

  • Vodafone. Vodafone provides 5G for mobile. At the time of writing, it is live in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, but Vodafone’s goal is to have coverage for 90% of New Zealanders within 5 years. Until 30 June 2021, you can access 5G for no extra charge on eligible plans as long as you have a 5G capable device. After this, it costs $10 per month as an add-on.
  • Spark. As of writing (9 December 2020), Spark has gone live with 5G for mobile phones in downtown Auckland, Takapuna, Palmerston North and Dunedin. Spark also offers 5G wireless broadband with plans starting from $75 a month. The beginning of Spark’s 5G rollout has included selected locations in Alexandra, Westport, Twizel, Tekapo, Hokitika, Clyde, Auckland, Takapuna and Palmerston North.

Unfortunately, at the moment, you are limited with your choice of provider. If you want 5G mobile, you can choose either Vodafone or Spark, but if you want home broadband, then you need to choose Spark – of course, as long as you are in the coverage areas. Things are likely to change though over the next couple of years, with other telecommunication companies getting onto the 5G train.

What’s so great about 5G?

Whether you are utilising 5G on your mobile on a home laptop, 5G has several key benefits:

Speed

5G is a big step up from 4G when it comes to speed, and this is most apparent when downloading, streaming, gaming and browsing web pages. While Spark states that 5G has the potential to download up to 100 times faster than is possible on 4G, we understand that its trial customers experienced speeds of around 10 or 20 times faster during the initial rollout stage.

Vodafone has advised that its 5G launch speeds were around 150-200Mbps for downloading, which is faster than standard fibre and means it takes about 3 minutes to download a 5GB movie. However, Vodafone does expect speeds to reach 10 times faster than 4G once it builds out the 5G network. Test your internet speed.

Low latency and higher quality

Latency refers to how long data takes to get from one point to another. 5G has a network latency of lower than 20 milliseconds, which means that that there is less lag, a more seamless experience and improvement to all online activities. Gamers will particularly appreciate this, as online gaming becomes more fluid, with almost real-time delivery of commands to give the upper edge in competitions.

Better productivity

Without having to wait for files to open or pages to load, your business productivity can remain high throughout the day. Plus, if you’re relaxing at home streaming your favourite media, you can watch shows and movies straight away without needing to make a cup of tea while you wait for buffering.

An alternative to fibre

If you don’t have access to fibre, you may be able to get 5G wireless fixed broadband and experience similar speeds and reliability.

Future possibilities

There has been a lot of predictions about what 5G may allow us to do, and although some may seem like a long way off yet, a few ideas have already been carried out. Overseas, Vodafone conducted the first 5G live holographic call and allowed a blind skier to conquer the slopes via acoustic signals.

Other things that 5G may be capable of in the future include allowing you to see how new furniture looks in your home using augmented reality, trying on clothes at home using virtual reality, scanning products while in-store to see online reviews and powering driverless cars. If you own a business, you could use drones to monitor health and safety across a site or even control a robotic crane from the comfort of your office.

What to be aware of

  • Limited coverage so far. Even if 5G is live in your city or town, it may not be at your place. For example, looking a Vodafone’s coverage map for Auckland, it’s available in the suburbs dotted around the city, but there are large gaps. You can get it in Newmarket, parts of Parnell and Epsom, but not in Remuera at this stage. You can check using the Vodafone network coverage map or the Spark 5G address checker to find out if 5G is good to go at your home or business.
  • More expensive. As it only just launched at the end of 2019, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what the costs of 5G are going to be compared to 4G plans. Vodafone charges $10 per month as an add-on, and Spark is available for no extra charge until at least July 2021. We can presume that 5G is going to be more expensive than 4G across both mobile and wireless broadband, which is understandable due to it being a new technology.
  • More data usage. You will potentially use more data while on 5G due to its speed, so you should consider having an unlimited plan instead of worrying about reaching your data limit each month.
  • Not necessary for everyone. While 5G promises to change the way we live and improve business operations and services, this might not necessarily matter much to you. Many of us have been doing pretty well with what 4G provides. So, unless you are a heavy gamer, frequent Netflix streamer or run your business through the Internet, you may be fine without it. 4G and 5G are going coexist, just like 3G and 4G do now, so you are not going to be left behind.
  • Anti-5G protests. You may have caught some news about anti-5G activists protesting the rollout due to health and environment safety. However, the Ministry of Health states that 5G is no different from other radio frequency signals, so it is not deemed to be dangerous to public health.

5G summary

While 5G certainly has many benefits for streamers or gamers, heavy Internet users and businesses, this technology is still getting off the ground. In a couple of years, we expect that there will be more New Zealanders able to use 5G, but for now many can only experience speedy Internet with ultra-fast broadband where available.

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