Vodafone New Zealand’s new owners have been quick to signal their intent, jumping ahead of Spark with a 5G launch date. The competition is in for a tougher time, writes Mark Jennings.

NZX listed Infratil and Brookfield, a Canadian investment company, officially took ownership of the company today and Vodafone immediately announced it will launch New Zealand’s first major 5G roll out.

The two investment companies have given new CEO Jason Paris the green light to turn up the heat on his major competitor, Spark.

In December, Vodafone will switch on a 5G Network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

This should put it at least six months ahead of Spark which has previously said it will roll out its 5G network in mid-2020.

Vodafone has managed to keep its 5G play largely secret until the past few days when speculation increased after it revealed it was making a major announcement this morning.

Its chief executive, Jason Paris, said, “I’m thrilled to announce we will be bringing genuine 5G to New Zealanders later this year, building on our proud heritage of being first to deliver the best technology from around the world to Kiwis including 2G, 3G, and 4G.

“5G is so much more than the successor to 4G. It’s the most powerful tool yet invented, representing a transformational shift that will drive a digital revolution and make New Zealanders lives and businesses better, smarter and more productive.”

Former CEO Russell Stanners said last year that Vodafone NZ was in no hurry to launch 5G but given that the company already has available spectrum Paris and the new owners have seen an opportunity to position themselves as the market leader.

Spark has been running a marketing campaign featuring former 3 News reporter David Farrier in a driverless car conducting interviews with business leaders.

The telco has been running a 5G test lab in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter but does not yet have the spectrum to roll out a network in the way Vodafone is planning.

Spark has talked a lot about how its 5G Network could assist Team New Zealand relay live data from its boat to its onshore base, but it remains stymied until the government auctions suitable spectrum.

Spark’s former CEO Simon Moutter often urged the government to speed up the process but the 3.5GHz band that is required is currently utilised by other users and not due to be repackaged and sold on until October 2022.

The minister responsible, Kris Faafoi, has indicated he is unlikely to help Spark expedite its plans. He has been reported as saying, “If 5G network operators want access prior to expiry of existing rights, this can be achieved with the agreement of existing users,”

“5G network operators could enter commercial agreements with existing users to gain access to spectrum without any government involvement.”

While Spark tries to cajole the government into some kind of intervention the pace of 5G rollouts is picking up around the world.

Vodafone NZ’s former international parent company has just launched 5G networks in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Paris said the speed of 5G, at least 10 times faster than 4G, will open up huge opportunities for New Zealand business and change the way many operate.

“The experience of Vodafone in launching 5G in other countries has shown that consumer applications such as gaming, wearables, and smart home technologies definitely benefit from 5G’s higher-speed and lower latency, however it is innovative businesses and public organisations who are the real early adopters.

“5G is starting to shape the future of every sector. In health with connected ambulances and remote surgery, in manufacturing with automated factories and in utilities with smart waste management or intelligent electricity networks. It’s starting to benefit communities around the world and deliver social-good outcomes, for example through improved e-learning capabilities. We want all businesses and organisations to see what 5G can do for them,” Paris said.

“Vodafone is already working alongside a number of business partners to use the power of 5G to find new solutions to improve the lives of New Zealanders. I’m proud to announce our first four partners, NZ Police, BNZ, Auckland’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter and Waste Management. They have agreed to work with us and our partners Nokia, Microsoft, and IBM, to begin to scope their 5G future.”

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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