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Vodafone 5G has announced that its first 5G ‘outdoor’ coverage will be at Parramatta.

The Vodafone 5G map below (valid 31 March 2020) focuses on Rosehill Gardens Racecourse over to Westfield Shopping Centre and CBD in the west.

Vodafone 5G

Vodafone 5G warns ‘Network coverage maps are only a guide and coverage may be impacted by local conditions such as buildings’. Practically speaking, it will only guarantee 3/4G coverage indoors.

It says it will cover areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth from mid-2020. It will also have some 5G sites in the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Central Coast and Geelong. The area maps are here and reflect approximately 650 ‘sites’ from a planned ‘several thousand’.

How much 5G coverage?

Back in 2018 at the Government spectrum auction VHA-TPG Telecom joint venture company, Mobile JV Pty Ltd acquired 131 lots of 3.6GHz spectrum for AU$263 million. Telstra bought 143 lots, Optus 47 and Dense Air Australia 29. A lot is a contiguous band of 5Mhz within the 3575-3700Mhz (called sub-6Ghz or 3600Mhz 5G n78). Some carriers also had existing 3400Mhz lots that are to be re-purposed to 5G.

At that time VHA Chief Executive Officer Iñaki Berroeta said,

“While VHA has now secured access to 5G spectrum, it is still important that we complete the merger with TPG to create a scale business with a significantly increased ability to invest in networks, new technologies and competitive plans and products for Australian customers.”

VHA’s 131 lots include 12 lots each in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, and Adelaide; three lots in Perth lower band; nine in Perth upper band; eight each in North Queensland, Central Queensland, Regional Northern NSW/Southern Queensland, Regional Victoria, and Tasmania; six in Regional Southern/Western NSW; four in Regional South Australia; and nine in Regional Western Australia.

This does not include 4G LTE low-band re-farming that Telstra, Optus and Vodafone will use to supplement 5G coverage and reach.

But what does that really mean?

You need to understand radio frequency and base station coverage.

Australia 4G works on bands 1 (2100Mhz), 3 (1800Mhz), 5 (850Mhz), 7 (2600Mhz), 8 (900Mhz) 28 (700Mhz), 40 (2300Mhz) and 42 (3500Mhz) – the latter two are NBN Fixed Wireless. Remember the lower the frequency, the further it can transmit, and the easier it passes through buildings.

4G radio frequency starts from 700Mhz that can transmit (in theory) up to 200km and pass through most things.

5G is 3600Mhz and has a much shorter transmission distance. Being a higher frequency, the speed you can achieve drops off as you move further away. Anecdotally this is line-of-sight (a kilometre or so) and in practice maybe 200-300 metres.

As of 8 March 2019, the number of 4G base stations was:

  • Optus has approximately 6414 (Bands 1, 3, 7, 28, 40 and 42)
  • Telstra has about 5962 (Bands 1, 3, 7, 8, and 28)
  • Vodafone has about 4750 (Bands 1, 2, 5, 7)
  • NBN has about 1920

5G is just like 4G – each carrier owns a slice of a particular frequency – not the whole frequency.

The actual number of 5G non-standalone sites is ‘sketchy’ – as of today

  • Telstra claims 800 sites ‘capable of serving up 5G’ (whatever that means)
  • Optus plans 1200 sites by March 2020 in its first wave (whatever that means)
  • Vodafone has one site and says it will have 650 soon from a planned ‘several thousand’.

These sub-6Ghz 5G sites are known as non-standalone in that they add a 5G antenna (albeit it later tech with beamforming and MIMO etc.) to 4G infrastructure and use existing backhaul. Once the 5G signal drops off, it switches to 4G and then 3G. Currently, that is most of the time unless you are sitting on a 5G tower.

To work on Australian 5G n78 the handset must have Australian certification and firmware and Australian carrier IMEI pre-registration – there is no point buying a 5G handset overseas. Having said that a 5G n78 Australian certified phone should work in international n78 locations provided your eSIM is activated here first.