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NZ 22nd country to launch 5G network

At an event in Wellington on Tuesday, Vodafone New Zealand switched on 5G in parts of the capital, as well as Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, Marc Daalder reports

New Zealand is now the 22nd country to have 5G, after Vodafone NZ launched the wireless service in partnership with Nokia in parts of Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown on Tuesday morning.

At an event celebrating the launch in Wellington, Vodafone CEO Jason Paris said that "this is just the beginning of a new technology era for New Zealand. We expect Vodafone New Zealand customers using 5G to experience mobile download speeds of potentially five to10 times the current 4G speeds."

A demo by New Zealand Herald technology editor Chris Keall showed a 5G-enabled device reaching speeds of up to 568 Mbps - fast enough to download four gigabytes in less than a minute.

Vast potential

Paris said that 5G technology has a vast array of potential uses. At the event, Police Chief Information Officer Rob Cochrane said that the possibility of streaming high definition, 4K video to command centres would "actually make a huge difference to how we police".

Cochrane visited Italy and Germany, where Vodafone has already rolled out 5G, and observed how police in those countries were using the technology. "You can talk about it, but until you actually see it, it's hard to picture how it's going to be useful in a policing context," he said.

"If you think of our communication centres now, they don't get a lot of visual. We keep them in a room, they look at a screen, and they can't see a lot of what's happening out in the environment. Being able to stream 4K video and give them a different perspective on what's actually happening in the environment [helps them] make some different deployment decisions, which is important to what we do.

"If I think about use cases that it could be applied to, it's about making us more situationally aware. If we think about a vehicle crash in Auckland, it's painful for everyone involved - both the people that have crashed but also the commuters. If we could put a drone up that could potentially map our scene in 3D really quickly, free up that road and get the traffic moving again, that's a real benefit for us."

Police will be able to use 5G-enabled drones as a swifter, more covert alternative to helicopters. Photo: Marc Daalder.

Cochrane and Paris said 5G-enabled drones would also be able to use heat-mapping technology to fulfill the same role as police helicopters, but more quickly and covertly.

Benefits for small businesses

Smaller operations could also take advantage of the technology. Jourdan Templeton, the chief technology officer for Hamilton-based AI firm Aware Group, showed how a 5G-enabled webcam could provide valuable data to retail outlets.

Templeton demoed a video showing movement and lingering by anonymised customers in a Vodafone retail store which could help managers make decisions about where to place certain products and displays to maximise the chances of making a sale. The video highlighted where people spent the most time and which displays they walked past without a second glance.

"When it comes to retail, one of the most important things we need to know is how many people are coming through the store. How many people enter that door, where do they go inside the store and how can we use that opportunity while that customer is in the store to actually make a sale?" Templeton explained.

"Using CCTV footage, we can see how people are actually moving in the store. What you can clearly see is that there are certain paths that people see when entering the space."

Templeton also demonstrated a real-time, 5G-powered heatmap of the launch event. "This is an example of how AI technology can be applied to a store, how we can use it to improve the experience for customers, but also improve the efficiency of how we lay out our space," he said.

See more here in Bernard Hickey's analysis of how the launch of 5G could unleash a productivity quantum leap that transforms the economy. Also, see Bernard Hickey's analysis of what 5G might mean for manufacturing.

Aware Group's Jourdan Templeton demonstrates real-time heatmapping using 5G technology. Photo: Marc Daalder

It was all powered by Aware Group's artificial intelligence and, although it could be done with fibre internet, was cheaper and more flexible when paired with wireless 5G. "Imagine a connected camera that's already 5G-enabled. Any small business owner, any large business owner, can take that camera and just plug it in and turn it on," Templeton said.

See more here in Bernard Hickey's analysis of how 5G works and why acronyms like MIMO and phrases like 'network slicing' matter.

Access limited at first

Consumers and clients alike will have limited access to the new 5G network. Only 5G-enabled devices can take full advantage of the technology. Vodafone has partnered with Samsung to launch two such phones today - a 5G-enabled version of the Galaxy Note 10+ and a budget option, the Samsung A90 5G.

Apple has yet to release a 5G-compatible smartphone. While some other phone models have 5G-enabled versions, only the 4G version is for sale in New Zealand.

Fixed wireless 5G, which uses 5G to provide WiFi, is currently being developed, Vodafone said. The technology would allow consumers to access fibre-like speeds without the use of wires or cables and was recently demoed in Wellington Airport.

"Vodafone 5G fixed broadband solutions will open up connectivity choices for many more Vodafone New Zealand customers, especially those looking for a plug and play wireless solution with quick and easy downloads," said Tony Baird, Vodafone's Technology Director.

Just 100 of Vodafone's more than 1500 cell sites have been equipped with Nokia's 5G technology, but the rest will be upgraded in the coming years, the company said in a statement. The company also expects to double its 5G speeds to one gigabit per second - or one gigabyte every eight seconds - once it secures more of the 3.5 GHz spectrum.

That acquisition is currently held up by a Treaty of Waitangi claim.

See more here in Bernard Hickey's analysis of how 5G could tranform health and cities.

Some hesitant about new technology

NZ Compare, a consumer advice and transparency firm, released a survey on Monday that found 46 percent of Kiwis are concerned that 5G might affect human health and a third were worried about its impact on animals and plants. Such worries are unfounded, according to scientific experts, but the movement opposing 5G is surprisingly widespread, as Newsroom reported in October.

Anti-5G protesters are concerned the technology could kill bees or give humans cancer, but the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor has launched a new website to dispel these myths.

"The radio waves used for 5G have frequencies that are ten thousand times too low to damage molecules," the website states.

"Radio waves can heat our body if we are over-exposed to them. However, these effects can only occur when exposed directly to a very powerful source so that the heat builds up enough to damage tissue before it dissipates. 5G sources are simply not powerful enough to cause damage in this way.

"Many researchers have explored possible connections between radio frequency radiation and cancer and as is often the case when there are many separate studies, a small number have reported an association between exposure and cancer, such as mobile phone use and brain tumour risk.

"Significantly more high-quality studies have found no associations, including studies funded by cancer research organisations. The clear conclusion reached internationally, supported by health authorities in New Zealand, is that exposure to this type of radiation at levels experienced in New Zealand is not hazardous."

* Vodafone Business is a Newsroom partner.

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