What you need to know about 5G in Australia
Although people started talking about 5G almost as soon as 4G, or LTE, began rolling out in 2010, the minimum standards and official definition of 5G were only finalised in 2018. The actual deployment of commercial 5G networks only started to gain momentum in mid-2020, which is why you are now seeing more mention of 5G. But what is 5G, and what can you expect of 5G in Australia? Let’s break it down.
What is 5G?
In simple terms, 5G is a fifth-generation mobile communications network that uses a number of new technologies to offer much faster speeds than 4G. There are three primary frequency groups used by 5G:
- Low band 5G uses low frequencies and has a longer range. However, speeds are only slightly faster than that of 4G/LTE.
- Mid band 5G uses higher frequencies than low band 5G and can deliver speeds of between 600 Mbit/s and 1 Gbit/s. But the range is also shorter, so you need to be closer to a cell tower.
- mmWave5G uses a much higher frequency but has an even shorter range than mid band 5G. In theory you could achieve speeds of up to 2 Gbit/s, but most solid objects block mmWave, so you would have to be very close to a cell tower and have completely clear sight of it.
Only newer phones with 5G support will be able to connect to 5G networks but will also be backwards compatible to connect to 3G and 4G networks when 5G is not available.
Where will 5G be available?
Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have all started rolling out their 5G networks across Australia, focusing on large cities and densely populated areas first. However, the process will take time, so even in major centres the coverage is uneven, with only central business districts enjoying more widespread coverage. Additionally, you can expect different coverage for mobile phones and home broadband using 5G. None of the networks have given any indication when they expect most areas to be covered by 5G.
How can I get 5G?
Connecting to a 5G network is not as simple as living or working in an area with 5G coverage; you will also need a mobile device that supports 5G and have a mobile phone plan that includes 5G. While mobile network operators have started rolling out their 5G networks and offering a limited range of 5G compatible phones and home wireless devices, they haven’t all launched mobile plans that support 5G. So, in addition to checking the coverage maps for different mobile networks, you will also need to compare the plans and devices they have made available.
How is 5G better than 4G?
Just as 4G got better over time, so too is 5G expected to continually improve and advance. While mid band and mmWave 5G both currently support speeds of up to 2 Gbit/s, this could increase to up to 10 Gbit/s, making it possible to download extremely large files quickly, stream video in 8K, and even play console quality games online without any lag. The biggest benefits of 5G over 4G in the beginning will be superior speeds, substantially lower latency, and stability, since 5G will also offer better capacity, meaning less congestion. However, as the technology matures it could unlock benefits we haven’t even considered yet, both in terms of what mobile phones can do, and in connected home technology. 5G will also make mainstream use of autonomous or self-driving cars possible, and see the growth of smart cities, not only smart homes.
Can 5G replace the nbn™?
The rollout of the nbn™ throughout Australia is almost complete, and although not all areas will have a Fixed Line connection, they will all benefit from better speeds with nbn™. The rollout of 5G only started in 2020, and has mostly been confined to capital cities, with the most comprehensive coverage around city centres. The further away you travel from the city centre, the more uneven the coverage is. Additionally, you can expect early 5G technology to not offer all that 5G is capable of, so top speeds might not reach the gigabit per second speeds usually mentioned. This all means that for now 5G is not a suitable replacement for the nbn™. This could change, but there is also nothing preventing both from enjoying equal support from consumers.
Is 5G safe?
Claims about the negative health impact of 5G have been voiced by various groups and individuals since before the technology began to roll out. However, none of these claims are supported by independent scientific studies and research into the effects of electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure and radio waves on individuals and the environment. Both the World Health Organisation (WHO)1 and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)2 have released public statements regarding there being no established health effects from 5G and associated technology.
What happens to 3G and 4G?
It was only once 5G networks began rolling out worldwide that many mobile phone manufacturers began introducing 5G capable phones and devices, and most phones currently on the market still only support 3G and 4G only. While this will change as time goes on and as 5G becomes more widely available, 3G and 4G won’t be disappearing anytime soon. As with 2G, the 3G networks will be eventually be shut down, but so far only Telstra has announced the planned shutdown of their 3G network, currently set for mid-2024. 4G will be around for much longer, and as the network operators focus on rolling 5G out in major centres first, the 4G network in remote areas might even be upgraded giving better overall coverage. 5G phones and devices will be compatible with 4G, so whenever 5G is not available, the phones and devices will seamlessly switch to using the 4G network.