Govt initiates 5G technology inquiry

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government has initiated a Parliamentary inquiry into 5G technology in Australia, but its terms of reference mean the controversy surrounding national security and the banning of Huawei for the 5G build will be off limits.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts officially launched its inquiry into the capability, capacity and deployment of 5G in Australia last week, after communications minister Paul Fletcher requested the investigation earlier this month.

The next-generation mobile technology is set to provide faster speeds and better connections to Australians, and also power growth in Internet of Things products. A number of local telcos have launched 5G network trials, with some to go live next year.

The inquiry will look into the opportunities and challenges presented by 5G technology and its application for enterprise and government, committee chair and Nationals MP David Gillespie said.

“5G will transform the way we live and work, and provide opportunities for family life, industry and commerce. It will power smart homes and cities and provide new ways to experience entertainment, and at the same time transform transport, logistics and industry,” Mr Gillespie said.

“5G is expected to be significantly faster than current mobile network technology, delivering more capacity and faster mobile data speeds for consumers. We want to hear about the opportunities and challenges of 5G.”

But the committee will not investigate the most controversial aspect of the roll-out of the 5G network in Australia – the banning of Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE from offering equipment and technology.

The federal government late last year announced it would be banning the Chinese tech companies from participating in the build or operation of the 5G network in Australia, leading TPG to cancel the roll out of its own mobile network due to its reliance on Huawei equipment.

This decision has been repeatedly slammed by Huawei, with its Australian chair John Lord recently saying that Australia “cannot afford to turn its back” on the “once in a lifetime opportunity” presented by Chinese tech companies.

The companies were banned due to national security concerns, but these issues are “out of scope” for the just-launched 5G inquiry.

The committee’s deputy chair is Labor MP and former shadow digital economy minister Ed Husic, with five Coalition members and three Labor MPs.

The committee will accept submissions until 1 November, but is yet to set a date for when it will deliver its final report to government.

The Industry department also recently launched a new Digital Economy and Technology division within AusIndustry which will work closely with other agencies on key technologies such as 5G.

The deployment of 5G technology is expected to offer a viable alternative to the National Broadband Network’s fixed line offering, with competition watchdog chair Rod Sims saying the competition will be positive for consumers.

“We will need to wait and see what happens when 5G becomes widely available and how markets react. What we must never do, however, is seek to restrain others in order to protect the NBN business model. This would be a disaster for consumers,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“We know that 5G is going to lower the cost of delivering data, but those changes will be accompanied by large capital and operating costs; operators will need to acquire new spectrum, densify their networks by building more mobile towers and make sure their transmission can support delivery of new services.”

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