Spark has launched its first 5G mobile service, with Palmerston North the first location on its network to be upgraded to the faster mobile technology.
The telco says that makes it the first NZ carrier to offer both mobile and fixed-wireless 5G service (which is technically true, even if its footprint for both is tiny).
In November last year, Spark launched fixed-wireless service in a series of small South Island towns, with Palmerston North added today - making it the first centre to get both mobile and fixed 5G (fixed-wireless covers one home or business only, using mobile broadband as an alternative to a landline).
December saw Vodafone offer the first 5G mobile service in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown. Vodafone says it will have a broad 5G fixed-wireless rollout by year's end.
Spark says it will offer 5G mobile in four more (as-yet-unnamed) locations by Christmas.
2degrees has yet to set a timetable for upgrading its network, though recently indicated it was looking at options behind its incumbent technology partner, Huawei, which has been sidelined by the GCSB (Spark has already left Huawei behind in favour of Nokia Networks and Samsung).
Spark's Palmy rollout follows the government's decision to cancel the 5G spectrum auction, which had been scheduled for March, and instead making direct 3.5GHz spectrum allocations at relatively low-cost of $250,000 per 10HZ lot. The move saw Communications Minister Kris Faafoi favour a boost to mobile market competition over a bidding process that would have boosted Crown coffers to the tune of around $250m, going by 2016's 4G auction.
It's a slice of that cheap 3.5GHz spectrum that Spark is using for its Palmerston North upgrade.
Spark says there will be no 5G surcharge until at least July 2021 (Vodafone recently delayed a $10 surcharge until that date), but you will need a 5G compitable-phone to take advanttage of its 5G's higher speed and lower latency (lag). Currently, that excludes iPhones.
Why start in Palmerston North?
"We have a range of locations planned and will roll these out progressively over the next few months. We've focussed on areas where we have strong demand for wireless broadband services to support the capacity growth and demand for great broadband speeds – Palmerston North City is one of those cities," a Spark spokeswoman said.
"In addition we identified Toyota as one of our early 5G partners and therefore we wanted to help them solve some of their biggest business problems."
Toyota is using BestSeat360 - the 360-degree video technology developed by America's Cup Virtual Spectator creator Craig Meek - to offer customers a virtual test drive via their mobile phone, complete wth livestreaming video and the chance to ask questions of the expert driver.
BestSeat360 has already been deployed for Harness Racing in Auckland, using (whisper it) 4G.