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Australia shows the way for mmWave 5G over long distances

NBN Co is claiming a new 5G transmission distance record, which is no bad thing when you consider the size of Australia.

The network operator – along with vendor partners Ericsson, Qualcomm and Casa Systems – transmitted a stable, 1 Gbps 5G fixed wireless transmission over a distance of 7.3 km, using millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum. The test took place at a proof of concept site near Mortlake, Victoria, in the far south of the country.

NBN Co said it doubled the distance achieved at the same site three months ago and set a new world record, adding that it expects to increase its range further in future testing.

While every operator – and vendor, and indeed everyone in the telecoms value chain – loves to be able to trumpet a new record, be it for transmission distance, speed or some other spurious first, this trial is particularly important to a company like NBN Co, which is using 5G technology to provide fixed wireless connectivity to people in rural and remote parts of Australia, where distances really matter.

In its announcement NBN Co included the caveat that the speeds it achieved in the trial will not necessarily match those experienced by end users, as we well know. It noted that the wholesale service it provides to retailers will come in at under 1 Gbps, due to equipment and network limitations, while the user experience will be impacted by factors such as the way the retailer designs its network and the number of users on the network. But nonetheless, the results of this trial are good news for hard-to-reach Australians.

And there are a fair few of them.

NBN’s fixed wireless network covers 620,000 premises across regional and rural Australia, and more than 90% of its customers are located within 7.3 km of a fixed wireless cell. The other 10% are doubtless keeping an eye out for future record-breaking tests.

“This long-range achievement is a very promising sign as we continue to develop our options to further improve performance and customer experience and plan to meet emerging demand on the network,” said Gavin Williams, Chief Development Officer, Regional and Remote, at NBN Co.

Its not wholly clear how long it will be until all of those fixed wireless customers are able to sign up for 5G-based services though. NBN said it will make improvements to its existing 4G platform that will complement “a targeted 5G implementation” in the future. These 4G upgrades include wider use of carrier aggregation; the introduction of Massive MIMO and other advanced antenna technologies; load balancing; new backhaul solutions, including additional fibre rollout; and the deployment of more advanced end-user equipment.

Back to 5G, and NBN believes its efforts to increase the range of 5G on mmWave will have implications outside of Australia too.

Commenting on the trial, the firm’s Chief Technology Office Ray Owen said: “We anticipate strong interest from the global technology community as we further develop these capabilities. With industry development for mmWave largely focussed on high-density urban environments, this trial helps prove the case for additional work to suit the unique requirements of the NBN Fixed Wireless network and other regional and rural use-cases around the world.”

He could well be right. After all, Australia does not have a monopoly on the need for high-speed wireless connectivity over large distances.

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