Spark says it is on track to begin rolling out a 5G mobile network in 2020. Services will go live during that year. This confirms the date the company previously said it would begin its next generation network build.

The confirmation comes after the company conducted trials earlier this year. Spark says the Wellington outdoor trial was successful with customers getting download speeds of up to 9 Gbps. An indoor trial in Auckland saw speeds as high as 18.2 Gbps. 

While some telcos overseas are building new networks from scratch Spark says it will start by adding 5G services to its exisiting 4G and 4.5G networks. This will be extended when there is enough demand. 

Spark managing director Simon Moutter says the company is working on mapping expected 5G cell site densities to learn where there is a need for new cell sites. He says: “We have already begun a build program to increase the number of cell sites in our existing mobile network – which will enable us to meet near-term capacity demand as well as lay the groundwork for network densification required for 5G.”

The company says it is expects to fund its 5G network through its existing capital expenditure programme, although this does not include any additional spectrum purchases. Spark spends around 11 to 12 percent of its revenue on capital expenditure. 

Spark plans to open a 5G Innovation Lab later this year in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. This will let companies test their applications on a private 5G network before the full roll-out. The company says: “Providing early access to a pre-commercial 5G network through our global relationships with leading equipment vendors like Huawei, Cisco and Nokia will give our local partners a competitive boost, fast-tracking these businesses’ 5G developments."

Significantly Spark has not named the network equipment provider it will work with on the 5G programme. The company used Huawei to build the 4G network and has previously worked on developments with the Chinese equipment maker. 

One potential concern is available spectrum. In a briefing paper Spark called on the government to make more spectrum available. This is already in motion, but the company wants this done in time for 5G networks to be running ready for the 2021 Amercia’s Cup in Auckland. 

Spark says it needs large blocks of spectrum in the C-Band, that’s 3400 to 4200 MHz. It says it needs at least 80 MHz blocks and preferably 100 MHz blocks to build networks with 5G performance. It also calls for even larger blocks at higher frequencies.