Spark launches commercial 5G, but not on preferred spectrum

Spark launches commercial 5G, but not on preferred spectrum

Enhanced data cap on 5G services delivered to overcome consumer resistance

Mark Beder (Spark)

Mark Beder (Spark)

Credit: Supplied

Spark is delivering what it says is New Zealand’s first 5G commercial service into five South Island towns and communities. 

Spark 5G wireless broadband services are now live in areas of Westport, Clyde, Twizel, Tekapo, and Hokitika. after trial services to Alexandra were switched on in September.

Spark has created a new “5G Discover” plan which provides up to 600 GB per month of data, a substantial increase over the wireless broadband plans available in those regions previously.

Rival Vodafone NZ announced in July that it would roll 5G services out next month in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown after securing the required spectrum in a private deal.

As in its earlier Alexandra roll-out, however, the company is using 2600 MHz spectrum, not the preferred C band (3500 MHz). 4G services are also still being offered in the towns, but over Spark's other spectrum bands.

“This 5G Discover wireless broadband service is a great way to demonstrate the possibilities of 5G, but our preference will always be C band (3500 MHz) as we believe this will be the primary spectrum band for mass deployment of 5G," said Mark Beder, Spark technology director.

"Acquiring enough C band spectrum is an important requirement for all wireless network operators. As the spectrum is released we'll be bringing more services, which we’ll roll out over time.”

Beder reiterated Spark's view that wireless broadband was one of the first use cases for 5G, however some are put off by the current data caps.

“The much higher data cap on 5G wireless broadband opens up an attractive proposition for a lot more customers, as it can offer fibre-like speeds in places with no or limited fibre coverage," he said.

"With 600GB of data, a customer could stream around 180 hours of sport on Spark Sport for example.”

Spark is pushing wireless broadband as an alternative to fibre in part because it is delivered on Spark's own network rather than the Ultrafast Broadband network where wholesale fees apply and margins are tighter.

The Spark 5G Discover plan flexes based on a customer’s data usage – from $75 a month to a maximum of $95 per month. 

The 5G Discover Entertainment plan includes Lightbox and Netflix and is priced between $85 and $105 per month. For the five new towns Spark is offering an introductory discount of $10 per month for the first twelve months of the plan.

Spark said the launch meant New Zealand became the 27th country in the world to offer a commercial 5G service to customers, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association.

The 5G wireless broadband service in Alexandra will transition from a trial to a commercial service next month meaning Spark will have six towns with 5G commercial services.

Beder said that Spark’s ability to offer 5G services was due to its recently completed wireless network upgrade.

“We enhanced our capacity by approximately 80 percent over the past two years. This included building new cell sites and the extensive rollout of 4.5G, which significantly enhances network performance and capacity relative to conventional 4G,” Beder said.

The Spark 5G services in the five towns use the latest Nokia 5G radio equipment including a smart antenna system, which will provide optimised capacity and coverage compared to 4G.

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