Spark has got the jump on rival Vodafone NZ - to a fashion - by launching what it's billing as New Zealand's first commercial 5G service, priced from $75 per month.
But its bragging rights are limited. The service is restricted to a handful of tiny South Island towns, and fixed-wireless rather than supporting mobile phones on the move.
"Spark 5G wireless broadband services are now live in selected areas of Westport, Clyde, Twizel, Tekapo, and Hokitika. This builds upon the 5G service Spark switched on in Alexandra in September, with further locations coming next year," Spark technology change lead Colin Brown said this morning.
Spark is offering a fixed-wireless 5G service - that is, using 5G to deliver broadband into a home as a substitute for a landline. The service can't be used on the move with a cellphone.
That means Vodafone NZ will still have bragging rights for launching the first 5G mobile network. The carrier will also offer fixed-wireless.
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The limited nature of Spark's initial 5G rollout drew a jab from tech commentator Bill Bennett, who tweeted, "It seems ridiculously important to Spark to be able to claim it has the first 5G network, even if it's only a tiny fixed wireless network in the wop wops."
And it saw a good-natured cheap-champagne jibe from Vodafone NZ boss Jason Paris, who posted, "Awesome to see @SparkNZ arrive at the @vodafoneNZ 5G party, even if they have turned up with a bottle of Marque Vue. But seriously, awesome to see any 5G & FWA innovation being accelerated in NZ. Has to be great for NZ & NZ business - great work."
On the official comment front, spokesman Rich Llewellyn said, "Vodafone is tracking well towards the widespread launch in December of commercial 5G on over 100 sites in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown."
Spark is offering "flex" pricing for its 5G fixed-wireless "Discover" plans.
There are three tiers of pricing, with users bumped up or down between the tiers each month depending on how much data they actually use.
For $75/month you get up to 60GB of data.
For $85 a month you get up to 120GB.
And for $95 a month, you get up to 600GB - a more realistic level if you mainline Netflix.
All of the plans are "naked broadband". That is, they don't include any voice service, which Spark is not yet offering over 5G.
Alexandra's trial will be transitioned to a commercial service next month, Spark says.
Both Vodafone NZ and Spark are using Finnish company Nokia Networks for their 5G builds - Vodafone because Nokia is its long-time incumbent, Spark because it is pursuing a "multi-vendor" strategy while its 4G incumbent, Huawei, is sidelined by a GCSB ban.
Spark says it's on-track to offer its first commercial mobile 5G service from July 1 next year.
While Spark is relatively 5G spectrum-poor compared to Vodafone NZ, it has been able to gain access to airwaves owned by UK outfit Dense Air for its South Island launch.
In November last year, Dense Air paid $25.7m to buy rights through to 2028 for 70MHz of 2.5GHz spectrum controlled by Blue Reach Wireless - a vehicle for rich lister and CallPlus founder Malcolm Dick.
The Government's 5G auction - a necessary precursor to a wider Spark rollout - is being held up by an unresolved Treaty of Waitangi claim.
However, MBIE recently said it is investigating the possibility of temporary 5G licences - a stop-gap move welcomed by Spark and 2degrees.
2degrees has yet to set a timetable for its 5G launch.
Chief executive Mark Aue says his company does not see mainstream demand for the technology at this point.
Spark shares were recently trading at $4.50. The stock is up 9.2 per cent for the year.