Australia turns on world's first 5G Wi-Fi hot spots (and yes, it's a big deal)

5G wireless connectivity has been much anticipated in the smart city space for some time for several reasons. And with Council Associate Partner Telstra's move to provide free public 5G-enabled Wi-Fi hot spots in the Gold Coast suburb of Southport the next generation technology is one step closer to reality. If you've been wondering why 5G is expected to be among the Next Big Things for smart cities, the story below should answer most of your questions. — Doug Peeples


Telstra built a 5G testing centre on the Gold Coast in November in anticipation of running a test of the technology in conjunction with the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Residents and visitors get to enjoy the luxury of free broadband and the company gets to conduct real-world testing of its technology before it begins offering the service more widely.

"Taking 5G technology out of the lab and into the hands of consumers is another key milestone on Telstra's roadmap to offering SG services in 2019," said Mike Wright, Telstra's managing director of networks. 5G is expected to be generally available throughout the world by 2020, although Telstra and other communications companies may launch the service earlier.

Where there are currently no compatible smartphones or tablets available yet, Telstra connected the 5G backhaul and infrastructure in the Southport Exchange to a standard Wi-Fi access point to allow the public to use it with the phones and tablets they have now.

As Wright explained, "Wi-Fi has limited throughput so a single hotspot alone cannot come close to reaching the limits of 5G at our Innovation Centre. By using multiple hotspots with potentially hundreds of smartphone users served through a single 5G device we are able to get closer to demonstrating 5G in a real world environment."

Why does 5G matter to smart cities?
While 5G won't likely replace 3G and 4G technology, most of the buzz about it concentrates on its ability to deliver substantially faster download speeds and low latency (the capability of moving massive amounts of data with very little delay). There are conditions that will affect speed, but Wright said his company's technology can deliver download speeds of more than 3Gps which, as he illustrated it, could handle simultaneous streaming of 1,000 HD movies.

Movies aside, 5G can benefit smart cities in several ways by improving connectivity and supporting IoT technology expansion such as sensors and other connected devices. Here are a few examples:

Transportation: Faster 5G speed will add capabilities to autonomous vehicles they wouldn't otherwise have to ensure they operate efficiently and safely and can communicate with each other and traffic control networks. It also will enable cities to better monitor things like parking meters, traffic congestion. As part of the Southport trial, Telstra put Australia's first 5G connected car on the road.

Energy and water: 5G is expected to allow smart electric grids and water networks to reduce costs,, operate more efficiently and enhance security.

Public safety: The increased speed and capacity of 5G would give law enforcement and other agencies the ability to expand their surveillance networks and upload or download high-definition video transmissions more quickly.

Health care: Telemedicine offers health care services that generally involve patients communicating with their care providers via live video and videochat apps like Skype and Facetime. 5G is expected to enhance telemedicine, particularly for patients in rural or other remote areas.

Those are a few examples of what's expected of 5G. More applications will certainly be developed and implemented.

Telstra's trial isn't an isolated effort. Communications companies throughout the world are working toward a 5G rollout.

In the U.S. Council Global Lead Partner AT&T is making preparations for its mobile 5G network. In February the company announced it would roll out mobile 5G service in 12 cities by the end of 2018, including parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas.

As AT&T noted in its announcement, "After significantly contributing to the first phase of 5G standards, conducting multi-city trials, and literally transforming our network for the future, we’re planning to be the first carrier to deliver standards-based mobile 5G – and do it much sooner than most people thought possible," said Igal Elbaz, senior vice president for wireless network architecture and design.

Doug Peeples is a writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartcitiesanz on Twitter.