When is 5G coming to rural areas?

Published: 4/21/21, 7:44 PM

By Jesse Archer.

As with any technology prediction, it's possible this post may not age well. On a fairly regular basis, we have rural customers asking about 5G and when they will be getting it. What we know (at the time of writing) is that 5G is not being rolled out into rural areas and I'm not sure if it ever will.

Two reasons:

1) 5G Access Points need to connect to the network backbone somehow and this is usually via fibre. In urban areas, fibre is down every single street now so there is no problem hooking an access point into the network backbone. Rural would need significantly more fibre rolled out.

2) The idea of 5G is super short-range & every few buildings. Radio spectrum is a limited resource which is why you often see data caps on wireless plans. 5G gets around this limitation by using frequencies that can handle more capacity and happen to be best suited to short ranges, which means network operators can reuse them over and over. To roll out to rural, you'd almost need an Access Point on every single farm/lifestyle block, in which case, you might as well connect everyone direct to fibre.

In the future, networks may add "5G" to their existing rural towers but it'll serve no real practical purpose for the rural consumer (no improvement in speeds, pricing etc), but benefit the networks in running a single platform. At present some NZ operators run 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G networks which is a lot of infrastructure and duplication. 2G and 3G are still being run to support low-level data services (such as electricity meters) and voice calling. Once those legacy services are migrated to 4G/5G networks, the operators would be able to shut down those old networks (4G for example has a next generation of calling called Voice over LTE, also known as VoLTE and Voice over 4G).

We know that improved speeds and access to unlimited data at a fair price are really important to our customers which is why we’re presently full steam ahead building out our new Rural Wireless service, which is a network of line-of-sight repeaters around the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. We've taken a leaf out of 5G's urban playbook by getting our repeaters as close to our customers as possible, often just a few KM. More repeaters, especially ones closer to where our customers live = more capacity.

If you presently live outside our Rural Wireless coverage but have a hill (or know the neighbour who does), we'd love to have a chat to you about building a repeater for your community.

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