New Zealand operator launches 5G fixed wireless service for five customers in Alexandra using 2.6 GHz spectrum; awaits 3.5 GHz auction

Spark this week announced its 5G launch, introducing a wireless home broadband service to a very limited number of customers.

The New Zealand incumbent brought the service to market in Alexandra, a small town of around 5,000 people in the Central Otago region of the South Island.

It invited a handful of customers to use the service. Or slightly more specifically, "a number of customers and a business or two," the telco’s technology change lead Colin Brown said in a promotional video.

Spark chose Alexandra for the launch because of the strong uptake there for existing 4G-based wireless broadband services, Brown explained. The telco plans to extend the service to another five heartland New Zealand towns, as it describes them, before Christmas, with a view to rolling out nationwide next year.

The service uses Spark’s 2.6 GHz spectrum and the telco is also working with Dense Air, a large 2.6 GHz spectrum holder. However, it believes 3.5 GHz frequencies will be key for 5G.

"We’re pleased to be able to deliver 5G over the 2600 MHz spectrum in Alexandra as it is a great way to demonstrate the possibilities, but our preference will always be C band (3500 MHz) as we believe this will be the primary spectrum band for mass deployment of 5G," said Mark Beder, Spark’s technology director, in a statement. "Acquiring enough C band spectrum is an important requirement for all wireless network operators."

New Zealand plans to auction airwaves in the 3.5 GHz band next year.

Xerra Earth Observation Institute is one of Spark’s launch customers in Alexandra. The institute works with large amounts of data and has previously struggled with poor connectivity.

Meanwhile, Sanchia Jacobs, CEO of Central Otago District Council, said the council is "looking forward to working with Spark to offer the community the opportunity to try this new technology by installing a 5G modem at the Alexandra Library."

And Spark said "a further three customers are also now enjoying 5G connectivity."

It’s a very small deployment, but you have to start somewhere.