Reseller News

Spectrum access dogs Spark's 5G ambitions

With wireless as its core strategy, Spark is eager for 5G spectrum to be released
Justine Smyth and Jolie Hodson (Spark)

Justine Smyth and Jolie Hodson (Spark)

Access to spectrum remains a key challenge for Spark as it tries to realise its 5G and broader wireless ambitions. 

Spark chair Justine Smyth told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting today a significant amount of fixed and mobile network investment had been brought forward for the Rugby World Cup was also readying the company for 5G.

Investments made in the 2019 financial year would stand Spark in good stead for years to come as it accelerated towards a wireless future, Smyth said.

"We have greater capacity for growth within our network than ever before, giving us a competitive advantage and putting us in the position where we can improve our mobile and broadband offerings in the year ahead.

"These preparations also allow us to move at pace towards the launch of 5G services as soon as the relevant spectrum is available."

Spark has made a big bet on wireless, seeing it as, among other things, a route to delivering more and better fixed wireless broadband services, lowering the cost of wholesale Ultrafast Broadband fibre services in the process.

However, as revealed by Reseller News, it appears Vodafone NZ has stolen a march on Spark, having already inked two key spectrum deals, allowing it to embark on a nationwide rollout of 5G services.

Spark CEO Jolie Hodson, in her first AGM address, told shareholders having the right amount of spectrum was vital for Spark to roll out services in a more widespread way. 

"We note that 5G is proceeding much faster in other countries and it is important that New Zealand keep pace with the rest of the world," she said.

However, the spectrum band designated for 5G by the government is partially allocated until late 2022, which means long-term rights to use it will not come into effect for some time.

In the interim, the government has commenced an accelerated process to open up access to some of the spectrum within that band on a short-term basis. 

"This will help bridge the gap until the full range of spectrum is available for use in 2022," Hodson said. 

"We acknowledge the active role being taken by Minister Faafoi and his colleagues to address the necessary policy issues so this accelerated auction process can take place."

In the meantime, Spark is continuing to develop the current capability of its 4G network. 

"We have just completed our biggest ever upgrade of our wireless network, which has increased capacity by approximately 80 per cent over the past two years," Hodson said. 

"The upgrade includes new cell sites and an extensive rollout of 4.5G, which significantly enhances network performance and capacity relative to 4G."

Spark began a limited private rollout of 5G services in Alexandra in August and rolled out a private service, with Huawei, for Emirates Team New Zealand's use in defending the America's Cup last week.