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Last week Spark held the first public demonstration of a 5G mobile network in New Zealand. Huawei provided the technology. It was, says Huawei New Zealand managing director Yanek Fan, a display of leadership.

The demonstration took place outside Parliament in Wellington. Communications Minister Clare Curran was the first to test 5G, downloading data at more than nine gigabits per second.

To put this in perspective, that is 100 times faster than the best you’ll see on today’s 4G cellular network. It is about nine times the speed of a fast fibre connection. Yet, because users share wireless spectrum, few people will see these speeds in practice when the network opens for the public.

Spark is pushing mobile technology hard. It wants to be the first in New Zealand to have a 5G network. Huawei is leading the 5G charge worldwide. Since 4G arrived about nine years ago, Huawei has emerged as the world’s leading telecommunications equipment company. It dominates the market worldwide, especially outside the US.

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Fan says Huawei has helped with similar recent 5G demonstrations in, among others, Japan, Canada, the UK and Germany. There are also trials under way in Singapore, Spain, South Korea and, of course, China.

Huawei has vast resources. It turned over around NZ$110 billion last year.

Fan says it spends 10 per cent of revenue on “solving customer issues”. This includes research and development.

“We have been working on 5G for three years now. We have 18,000 research and development staff working worldwide in 16 centres.

“Eight laboratories are in China. There are specialist wireless research centres in Sweden and Finland. Huawei has a research establishment in Moscow which has a focus on
mathematics. Russia has the best mathematicians. Another centre in Paris works only on 5G and there is a 5G innovation centre at Surrey University in the UK.”

Fan says the move from 4G to 5G is not the same as the move from 3G to 4G. That was about giving mobile users greater download speeds. In effect 4G made it practical for phone users to watch video while on the move.

He says; “5G is different. Users will see more speed. But that’s not the important thing. Its higher performance becomes an enabler for the telecommunications companies and for industry. In a small country like New Zealand, it is going have the biggest effect on vertical markets. This upgrade is not aimed at consumers.”

Huawei lists 10 vertical markets that will benefit most from 5G. Fan says from a New Zealand point of view the top one is the connected car. “Connected cars need 5G because it offers low latency.”

Latency is the time is takes for a communications network to respond. It is different from raw data speed. You can have a fast network that takes a long time to crank up.

He says: “The first wave of connected cars will relieve a driver’s feet. The technology will handle breaking and acceleration. A second wave will then relieve their hands — steering wheels will be a thing of the past.

“A further wave will then relieve a driver’s eyes. Technology will look out for hazards and so on, but, for some time yet, drivers will need to ask and answer questions.

“One day the technology will relieve drivers’ brains”.

Fan says connected cars need to act fast when something happens, so they need latency of less than one millisecond. Low latency is also important in smart manufacturing. Fan says this is the second most important vertical market for 5G in New Zealand. Overseas manufacturers use robots to build cars, but they need to respond fast.

Smart manufacturing includes using technology in agriculture and the Internet of things. Fan says this can also mean the transport sector.

The Internet of things doesn’t need 5G — not every device needs to handle large amounts of data. Yet Fan says 5G will bring a lot more connectivity and that will change things.

“At the moment every cow in New Zealand can have its own IoT connection. Farmers can use sensors to determine the status of a cow, then milk it at the best moment to get the highest possible yield. In the future, we may reach the point where every bottle of milk has its own connection. We see there being 100,000 times as many connections as there are today.”

New Zealand’s mobile companies are planning their 5G strategies and testing hardware. Most insiders expect them to start building networks from 2020 on, but they have to clear some hurdles first.

Fan says they need three things: “The most important is spectrum. The second is the network and the third is developing the business cases.

“From our point of view the technology is manageable. The network is easy to deal with. The most difficult part of that is to move the current network from 4G to 5G. That’s made easy because many of our customers, including Spark, have already started building 4.5G. The upgrade from there to 5G is quite smooth.”

He says the success of the Wellington demonstration shows the 3.5 to 3.7GHz C band will prove to be the best 5G spectrum for New Zealand. “We’re also testing 25 to 28GHz.

This is likely to be the highest frequencies used in New Zealand, at least for the first phase of 5G.”

In New Zealand Huawei provides the network equipment for both Spark and 2degrees.

Fan sees the Wellington 5G demonstration as affirmation of the relationship between the two companies.

Spark chief operating officer Mark Beder says: “We have been partnering with Huawei since 2013 on the Spark radio network, they delivered our 4G mobile network, and more recently our expansion into 4.5G. Right now we are working with them on our 5G trial in Wellington and a showcase planned in Auckland next month.”

–Credit: nzherald.co.nz – Technology