Spark says it has switched on 5G wireless broadband services for a "limited number" of invited business and consumer customers in Alexandra, Central Otago, using gear from Nokia to get around the GCSB's Huawei ban.

It says five other "heartland towns" will get 5G by Christmas.

With its limited trial, Spark steals some of the thunder from Vodafone, which is set for a full commercial launch in December, with 100 cell sites upgraded to 5G across Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

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Spark says it will begin upgrading its mobile network to 5G from July next year, following a "multivendor strategy" (read: Cisco and Ericsson rather than Huawei), while 2degrees has yet to set a timetable.

Fixed wireless trial for Alexandra, other towns on way. Photo / Supplied
Fixed wireless trial for Alexandra, other towns on way. Photo / Supplied

Fixed wireless - as Spark has rolled out in Alexandra - uses a 4G or 5G network to deliver broadband into a home as a landline replacement.

Fixed wireless has been a hit for Spark over 4G. In FY 2019, its 4G fixed wireless customers increased by 36,000 to 166,000 or around 20 per cent of its customer base.

Vodafone also plans to offer 5G fixed wireless plans.

Last week, Vodafone technology director Tony Baird told the Herald his company already has 5G trial sites live in parts of Auckland. He also revealed plans for a wider 5G rollout to 1400 sites.

Baird said while a number of players had spectrum in the 5G-friendly 3.5GHz band, his company's holding dwarfed its direct rivals.

MBIE says 3.5GHz holdings are as follows:

• Crown 2x14 MHz (used by WISPs on a regional basis)
• Vodafone 2x28 MHz
• Connecta 2x7 MHz (a rural broadband specialist)
• Spark 2x7 MHz
• Kordia 2x21 MHZ


Current rights don't expire until November 2022 - one of many spectrum auction hold-ups - but MBIE is currently investigating the possibility of short-term licences as a stop gap.