Australian 5G services will get a significant speed boost after five telecommunications companies spent over $647 million for the radiofrequency spectrum needed to bring 5G mmWave services to 27 CBDs and major regional centres.

All but two of the 360 radiofrequency spectrum lots available during the ten-day auction were sold – creating a new battlefield where Telstra, Optus, and TPG Telecom subsidiary Mobile JV will fight to offer turbo-charged 5G services utilising higher-performance mmWave frequencies in the high-speed, shorter-range 26GHz spectrum.

Also participating were Perth-based wireless ISP Pentanet and global wireless ISP Dense Air – which will launch local services after spending $7.99m and $28.7m, respectively, for 200MHz of spectrum in Perth/Margaret River and Sydney/Melbourne.

“We went into the auction unsure if we would be able to compete with the larger players,” Pentanet managing director Stephen Cornish said, “but our team was able to strategically secure a meaningful allocation at a price point that made sense for our use-case.”

Telstra – whose mobile market dominance led some to ponder capping its spectrum purchases during the auction – paid $276.6m for 1000MHz of spectrum, allowing it to support the most 5G mmWave endpoints across all 27 areas.

Optus spent $226.2m on 800MHz of spectrum that it has labelled ‘Golden GHz’ because it promises to triple peak speeds to 4Gbps, while Mobile JV paid $108.2m for 600MHz in most areas.

All are set to cash in on industry enthusiasm as businesses look to capitalise on a host of new use cases.

mmWave 5G “is the platform for us to build the future we want, that businesses want, the consumer applications we desire, and the society we believe in,” Hans Vestberg – CEO of early mmWave adopter Verizon – said during a CES 2021 keynote lauding the technology’s enabling of everything from augmented-reality museums to autonomous delivery drones.

Bootstrapping the Year of 5G

Despite consumers’ early ambivalence to 5G, growing worldwide availability means you’re likely to be using it soon whether you want it or not: industry group GSMA believes the current 200 million 5G connections will pass one billion by the end of 2023 and two billion by the end of 2025.

mmWave services will play a big part in this growth, the association said, noting in a recent cost-benefit analysis that “the continued growth of mobile data traffic plays to the strengths of mmWave bands, as mmWave can accommodate more capacity and bandwidth than any other band.”

The technology’s high speed and low latency are driving the creation of a new ecosystem of mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and cutting-edge applications such as remote surgery, smart cities, and self-driving cars.

Telstra launched a 5G mmWave device last year, despite there being no commercial network to support it, but a growing number of mass-market 5G devices – including Apple’s new 5G-capable iPad Pro – are normalising the high-speed technology.

Formal allocation of mmWave spectrum marks a significant step in what the government has termed the ‘Year of 5G’, with Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, welcoming the auction result.

“With access to 15-year licenses for millimetre wave spectrum,” he said, “network operators will now be able to provide fast, high capacity, and low latency services to build on and enhance their existing 5G networks.”

Later this year, a second auction will offer radiofrequency spectrum at the low-band 850/900MHz range, which was formerly used by 2G and 3G mobile services and has been repurposed to support 4G and long-distance 5G coverage.

Taken together, mmWave and low-band spectrum – along with the existing ‘sub6’ 2100MHz/3500MHz services – will maximise 5G coverage by layering three different types of services that each offer different combinations of speed and range.

Yet for all its promise, Australia is already late to the game: mmWave is already available in over 50 US metropolitan areas on Verizon’s network alone, with rivals expanding their footprints and mmWave rapidly coming to market in Europe and Asia as well.