The year of 5G
By Hon. Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts
Monday, 21 February, 2022
It is expected that policies introduced this year will benefit the country for years to come.
Having promised that 2021 would be the 'Year of 5G', I’m pleased our government has delivered on this commitment, setting Australia up to take full advantage of 5G and its many applications.
As the next generation of mobile technology, 5G is a significant advance on 4G networks, providing improvements in capacity, download speeds and latency performance.
The rollout of this technology is progressing rapidly. Coverage is expanding, with three of Australia’s major telecommunications companies now operating 5G networks. However, this hasn’t happened without a lot of work in the background, freeing up the required spectrum and improving the regulatory frameworks to support the deployment of these networks.
Spectrum is a critical enabler for 5G networks to reach their full potential. Which is why, over the course of last year, our government carried out two major spectrum auctions — the 26 GHz band and the 850/900 MHz band — to facilitate the growth of 5G and set the groundwork for the pace of 5G network rollouts to increase.
Also last year, we delivered the first tranche of reforms of the powers and immunities framework to support the deployment of telecommunications equipment. By improving the deployment framework, new services, including 5G, can be deployed more quickly to meet increased consumer and business demand, and realise the economic and social benefits of new communications technologies.
Telstra’s 5G network now covers 75% of the population, with coverage in more than 100 cities and towns and plans to cover 95% of the population by the end of 2025. By June 2021, Optus had switched on more than 1200 5G sites covering over 830,000 households. By the end of last year, Vodafone (TPG Telecom) had rolled out its 5G network to more than 85% of the population in Australia’s 10 largest cities.
This is a very promising sign and illustrates the breadth of opportunities the collective 5G rollout presents for economic growth and innovation. Just as previous generations of mobile technology have facilitated new and improved ways of doing things, 5G will be transformative in its own way, and generate significant advantages for productivity and our international competitiveness in a range of sectors.
To help demonstrate these productivity-boosting applications of 5G, our government established the Australian 5G Innovation Initiative — now with $40 million of funding across two grant rounds. The Initiative encourages the private sector to leverage the benefits of 5G to improve productivity and kickstart a successful 5G ecosystem in Australia.
As part of the first round, we allocated nearly $20 million to 19 recipients, in both metro and regional areas right across the country. The funded projects are new and exciting and demonstrate the capabilities of 5G in a range of industries. For example, Qube Holdings is working with Telstra to install 5G communications at the Moorebank Logistics Park intermodal rail terminal. This project involves linking automated vehicles to the existing control and safety systems, allowing faster travel speeds, lower fault rates and increased capacity.
In the agriculture sector, TPG Telecom is using 5G technology for high-quality 4K video streams to count sheep at the Bendigo Live Stock Exchange. With a manual human error rate of around 0.5% and each sheep worth $120, miscounts can cost over $13 million a year. A 5G camera can achieve higher accuracy than manual counting and sustain long periods of counting, while recorded video can be used to quickly verify results in disputes.
In construction, MAXART has developed a new smartphone application to create 3D digital twins of objects and environments. In this project, 5G supports the real-time streaming of these 3D scans, using 5G devices on 5G networks. This allows instant and accurate sharing of information between the builders onsite and the designers off site, reducing the time and costs associated with frequent site visits and improving the communication of complex construction problems.
Our government’s 5G Innovation Initiative has also been able to support projects that demonstrate the capability of technologies using 5G in emergency services, resources and public safety. For example, Rheinmetall Defence Australia, in partnership with Telstra, is using its nearly $1.5 million in grant funding to develop an autonomous, remote-controlled ‘Firefighting Tank’ — a purpose-built vehicle, capable of traversing extremely dangerous terrains to support rescue, path-clearing and firefighting missions. Rheinmetall’s Advanced Firefighting Concept program is using low-band 5G to support long-range remote control of these vehicles, ultimately improving fire safety.
In the resources sector, Aqura Technologies is using its nearly $2 million in grant funding to test 5G as a viable underground wireless broadband network, so underground operators can also reap the benefits that wireless communications can deliver. With over 50% of mining in Australia conducted underground, this project will help bridge the technology gap between surface and sub-surface environments, generating greater efficiency and safety in the sector.
And in the public safety space, Transdev Sydney Ferries is using the grant funding it received through the Innovation Initiative to install equipment on a subset of ferries that will use 5G to support a variety of safety applications such as CCTV and HelpPoint. These will measure and compare performance metrics of ferries fitted with both 5G and non-5G technologies.
From agriculture, to mining, to construction, to transport and logistics, to emergency management and public safety, 5G has the potential to revolutionise industries and generate enormous benefits for businesses, consumers and the economy more broadly. The Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research has estimated that 5G will add $1300 to $2000 in gross domestic product per person after the first decade of the rollout.
We want to capitalise on this, to see businesses taking advantage of digital technologies, and Australians realising the benefits of 5G sooner. The 'Year of 5G' may have officially come to an end at the close of the 2021 calendar year, but much was achieved. The rollout will continue, as will the innovation. In many ways, the applications of this fifth generation of mobile technology have only just begun to be discovered.
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