This will revolutionise our world

Ross Greenwood speaks to Channa Senevirante, Director of Wireless at Telstra, about a breakthrough in 5G communication technology.

Introduction: This will revolutionise our world

Ross Greenwood:   Welcome back to Monday News right around Australia . A couple of days ago, I headed for the Gold Coast just for the day literary in and out pretty quickly. I went there specifically to see something. When I arrived, I’ve got to say in Southport, the Tram going past, getting ready for the commonwealth games. I have to say I was a little unimpressed, underwhelmed may be by the exterior. An old telephone exchange.

I walked in, and I’ve got to tell you, was blown away by what I saw, because inside this telephone exchange, Telstra is doing some experiments that I knew about, that are absolutely world class. Tonight, as you’re wandering around, I just want you to do a quick speed test on your broadband. It might be at home, you might have NBN or you might have whatever it might be. Try and figure out if you have the fastest broad band around the place, because let’s say for example you can get fiber to the home or you have a business and you have the highest internet speed probably capable now with the NBN, 100Mbps. Yes great, super duper lightening fast.

There people out there who probably are getting 5Mbps, some will be getting 15. The vast majority might be getting 20. Well, I can tell you that I saw the internet running at 2400 Mbps, and the promise is that Telstra thinks that within a couple of weeks, software upgrade, it can make it go twice as fast again. This is a breakthrough by Telstra and Ericsson and yet we can, not, this is world class stuff.

For the very first time they have made a call at a very high frequency. And that high frequency, not only is it capable of getting a lot of people and a lot of capacity onto that very high frequency, but also it means that they can get exceptional speeds. This is under the new 5G network. At the moment if you are wandering around the city, you’ve probably got 4G on your phone. It’s quick, it’s good. 5G goes to the next level.

Let’s now get the director of wireless engineering at Telstra, Channa Seneviratne. He was on the line right now. Channa, it’s always great to have you on the program.

Interview with: Channa Senevirante, Director of Wireless, Telstra

Channa Seneviratne: Hi Ross, it’s great to be on your program.

Ross Greenwood:   Okay. What you showed me the other day, I’m going to say, it really took my breath away, because it was quite incredible. Explain to people why you can get such high speeds over that 5G network.

Channa Senerviratne:  The secret is in the capacity that you get and the actual technology of 5G that you can get this incredible high speeds. The way the technology works, and particularly that high frequency, you’ve got a lot of capacity, but also it’s the way that the radio interface works, in combination with the handset or our test handset that you saw there which was a [crosstalk]

Ross Greenwood:   Let’s be honest to people here. The handset actually is the size of a small fridge. You call it a handset, I call it basically a small fridge, but it’s the thing that basely performs the function of the handset and that is the absolute. Take people back a step. Why is it that if you can actually make calls at very high frequencies, you get so much more capacity? Because people now will be aware that if a lot of people, say that a football match there’s 50,000 people at a football match or at a concert, all of a sudden you try and use your 4G, everybody is on it, the speed comes down, the reliability is down. But with this, it actually has significantly more capacity. It allows the speed to stay higher and the capacity to stay high as well.

Channa Senerviratne:  That’s right, yes. Because of those frequencies, Ross, we have much more, what’s called channel bandwidth. We are able to put in a lot more calls, and we can consistently provide higher speeds for more of our customers because of– it’s a combination of both the higher bandwidth, but also the actual 5G technology itself, and how it uses the radio interface or the radio airwaves a lot more sufficiently than the 4G technology.

It’s a combination of three or four things that come together to give you that really high speed, but also high speed for more people in a given place.

Ross Greenwood:   This calls, what you call calls, what I’d call sort of an in-device, they really are world first. This is what your– I’m surprised that people have just missed it. Everybody is seeming to miss it. I spotted it, and went, “That’s incredible,” because this is genuinely the breakthrough. Explain the breakthrough that you and Ericsson have had, that is a world first, that could ultimately lead to the mobile technology that could drive driverless cars, remote surgery, amazing things could happen in the future.

Channa Senerviratne:  Absolutely yes. The world first aspect of this was making a call at that really high frequency, that particular high frequency which is at 26 Gigahertz, for those who are technically minded. The 26 Gigahertz band, as we call it, is going to be really important band for 5G globally, not only in Australia but in Europe and in China. This is going to be a really important part of what is going to make 5G deliver those really high speeds, but also the high capacity I spoke about.

But crucially, compared to 4G, there’s another feature called latency, which is the delay. The delay characteristic on 5G is about one thirtieth that of 4G. When you’ve that shorter response time, that is key to making things like driverless cars, remote surgery come to life, because you can now start to control something remotely. If you take an action at one remote spot, you get a response going really quickly to where you want the control to be applied.

Ross Greenwood:   You showed me at the laboratory there, the fact that your mobile handset that you called, the thing that I’d call a fridge. If you had it on wheels, you would wheel it around the laboratory and the antenna would actually direct its pin straight at the handset. In other words, there’s no wastage of throwing radio signals everywhere as the 4G signal does. It horns straight in on the device; be it a car, be it a piece of equipment, be it my phone, whatever it might be. That allows it to be more targeted, therefore the speed and the capacity is high as well.

Channa Senerviratne:  Exactly Ross. That’s targeted. It’s called beam tracking. It’s called adaptive beamforming and beam tracking. That’s part of the secret source that allows us to get additional capacity, because rather than spraying the signal all over the area, it knows where every handset is in the network, and it directs the beam right towards that handset. It’s all targeted and that is what improves that capacity that we can carry on 5G. It’s another really advanced feature of 5G technology that helps us bring this use cases to life.

Ross Greenwood:   You and I talked about it the other day, and that is that with these speeds and with this capacity, a lot of people are going to look at the national broadband network and have question marks about it. You however, had a slightly different response. You said that it is still vital as a part of overall telecommunication needs.

Channa Senerviratne:  It is. The way we see it, 5G is still a mobile technology and of course the NBN is a fixed technology. We see them playing both an equal part. They’re complementary technologies. Typically with wireless and even though 5G is going to bring us more capacity, NBN will give us even more capacity.

An example I gave you the other day when we met was that, an average mobile user today uses about 3 Gigabytes of data per month. Whereas an averaged customer who uses fixed broadband uses about 150 Gigabytes per month. That talks to you about the cost of providing that, because using a wireless technology, radio spectrum is very expensive. The cost to provide wireless is more expensive than in fixed.

Ross Greenwood:   The final one to ask you, because everybody will seat there and say, “This sounds great. This sounds absolutely brilliant.” How long will it take? Is it going to be by the end of my life that this comes in? How long is it before you think proper handsets like the one that I’ve got in my hand, my mobile phone, that they come into being that could offer this 5G service?

Channa Senerviratne:  That’s a really good question. What we think is that next year we’ll start to see the crate reduce down to about a PC. That will still be a laptop that will be in our test environment. We are doing what we are calling the fifth level of 5G on the Gold Coast starting early next year [crosstalk]

Ross Greenwood:   Which is all part of the Commonwealth Games of course, isn’t it? That’s right.

Channa Senerviratne:  It’s going through that, but we’re testing starting from early in 2018. We’re testing right throughout the year. The Commonwealth Games is for a short period doing that. Our aim is to do demonstrations right through the whole year.

What we think, Ross, then to your point in your question, we think the first handsets will probably become available in early 2019. It’s not too far away. It’s amazing how technology progresses and how a handset the size of a crate will start to really compress down to something that we know and love today.

Ross Greenwood:   I got to tell you, great to see you the other day, because remember that this technology much of it world first, just like a lot of the WiFi technology, Australian world first, is coming out of the of the Gold Coast, collaborations between Ericsson and Telstra. It really is quite amazing to see the speed. The internet going 2400 Mbps, but even 5G you can download a two hour movie in under a second at that, which is quite staggering.

That is Channa Seneviratne who is the director of wireless engineering at Telstra. Great to have you on the program Channa. We appreciate your time.

Channa Senerviratne:  Thank you very much Ross. Thanks for having me.


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