Singtel Optus chief executive Allen Lew’s plans to roll out fixed wireless 5G services this month have been pushed back, amid industry speculation that the government’s ban on providers like Huawei for the high-speed network is to blame for delays.
In February 2018 the second-ranked mobile and fixed internet provider revealed plans to be first to market with the fixed product in early-2019, which would allow Australians to access 5G speeds through their wireless home internet on devices.
Mr Lew then narrowed down the timeline to January for a launch with Canberra and Brisbane to be the first to get access.
At the company’s first-half financial results in November, Mr Lew said in a statement the company was “on track to commercially launch fixed wireless access services in January 2019”.
Optus has now back-pedalled on this promise and is delaying giving Australian households access for unspecified reasons, though will have 5G base stations turned on in Canberra and Brisbane by the end of the month. It’s unclear when consumers will be able to use this technology.
Industry sources speculated that last year’s government-imposed ban on Chinese providers like ZTE and Huawei from being involved in the roll out of Australian 5G networks was behind the delay.
Some suggesting Huawei- the largest provider of its kind in the world – is up to 12 months more advanced with equipment than its rivals.
An Optus spokesman said the telco had begun testing and rolling out the new infrastructure and had just finished a 5G data call in Canberra’s Dickson.
“Optus works with a mix of vendors in its mobile network and we are advanced in our 5G delivery plans,” he said.
He declined to answer questions about why Mr Lew’s plans for public access were not coming to fruition and would not comment on the impact of the Huawei ban on the company’s rollout plans.
Well-placed sources said part of the issue related to the availability of routers to connect households and businesses, and the fact Optus was yet to publicly announce a partnership with an equipment supplier.
Mobile providers expected the government to limit the use of the global leader Huawei in certain parts of the network on the basis of security concerns but most did not predict a total ban.
Australia was the first country to formally announce Chinese companies would be blocked from 5G, with the US having an unofficial stance against the telecommunications equipment manufacturers (since then New Zealand has followed suit).
Optus’ parent company Singtel had undertaken several trials with the Chinese giant and several other vendors ahead of the ban, and has since looked to a technology mix with suppliers like Ericsson and Nokia though has not announced its partners for 5G.
Telcos are racing to be the first to provide 5G services. Telstra has signed a deal with Ericsson, and has promised 5G-connected phones will be available to the public by mid-year.
At the end of last year, Telstra had upgraded 200 base stations out of 9700 nationally to be 5G-compatible though has not yet said when fixed wireless connections will be launched.
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