Spark ramped up the 5G race on Saturday, but Huawei is probably the biggest symbolic beneficiary of the New Zealand telco's latest rollout.
Spark announced over the weekend that it was trialing a private 5G service, isolated from the rest of its network, on the water for the Emirates Team New Zealand America's Cup yachting team to help defend the next America’s Cup.
The service covers parts of Auckland Harbour, and waters off Milford and Takapuna, where Emirates Team New Zealand do some of their test sailing.
Vodafone NZ has been rolling out commercial 5G services with partner Nokia since August while Spark booted up its first 5G network in September, focusing on improved wireless broadband services in Alexandra.
The reduced latency and higher bandwidth of 5G mean Emirates Team New Zealand can livestream data and video back to engineers and designers at the base straight off the new AC75 boat, Te Aihe.
The service is an extension of Spark’s existing 5G Lab in Wynyard Quarter in downtown Auckland, and uses test spectrum on loan from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
Also notable, however, is the fact the network was delivered by Spark's long-time network partner Huawei, which has remained under a security shadow since last November when security agency the GCSB blocked Spark's use of the company's gear for 5G.
Huawei NZ deputy managing director Andrew Bowater took the opportunity of the go-live to pitch again for his company's inclusion in future 5G roll-outs.
“We know Huawei technology is the best in the market and we’re pleased to be able to show New Zealand again what our technology enables," Bowater said.
"As the country’s understanding of 5G matures, it’s clear that not all 5G is the same and speeds differ hugely."
Bowater said Huawei now had more than 50 5G deals worldwide, and 60 per cent of them were in Europe. In the UK, both Vodafone and EE have launched commercial 5G networks using Huawei technology on their radio access networks.
"Leading telecommunication network providers choose us, because our 5G offering is the best," Bowater said. "We still want to work with the New Zealand Government, so the country doesn’t have to compromise on competition or quality.”
Dan Bernasconi, head of design for Emirates Team New Zealand said the 5G service was a game changer for the team.
“There’s a huge amount of innovation in the design and build of the AC75," he said. "The boat is a completely new concept so we need to be able to push the potential of this boat to its extreme in testing.
“Before the team had access to 5G they had to get a hard disk with all the data off the sailing boat, then the chase boat took it back to the base, and a team member would run the hard disk up to the data server at the base."
That meant design work using the data couldn’t happen until well after the boat had docked.
“Now we have 5G on the water, there are hundreds of real time data streams such as boat speed, ride height, and hydraulic pressure coming off the water and back to our design team at the base. Our team can do progressive design and development work during the day while the boat is sailing allowing our design-thinking to evolve much faster."
Jolie Hodson, CEO of Spark, said she saw huge opportunities to use the Spark 5G service to innovate with Emirates Team New Zealand and to support the connectivity required for the America’s Cup village.
"It’s an international showcase opportunity for many of the advances that will be enabled by 5G," she said.
“The potential of 5G goes far beyond high speed wireless broadband connections and mobile phones," Hodson said.
"Many industries and businesses in New Zealand will have their own ideas on what their transformative technology could be enabled by 5G. We want to encourage businesses to begin thinking about how they can prepare for the future of Spark 5G.”