Half of Australians could get Telstra 5G if they want it

Telstra's 5G network now covers half of the population of Australia, the telco announced on Thursday.

Mary Lennighan

January 14, 2021

3 Min Read
Half of Australians could get Telstra 5G if they want it

Telstra’s 5G network now covers half of the population of Australia, the telco announced on Thursday.

Without wishing to detract from the Australian incumbent’s rollout – it is clearly making good progress in 5G – this appears to be yet another case of a telecoms operator’s marketing team pushing a statistic that doesn’t actually mean a lot.

The fact that one in two Australians live within a 5G coverage area is all very well (and perhaps not altogether surprising given the concentration of people in and around the major towns and cities), but in reality most telcos’ 5G coverage is patchy at best and consumers are not exactly signing up in their droves.

Telstra said it has more than 2,650 5G sites on air across Australia, with coverage in selected areas of major urban centres and 2,000 suburbs. It’s that “selected areas” phrase that we keep hearing.

“We now have Telstra 5G coverage in selected areas of more than 100 cities and towns, including major regional centres in every state including Sunshine Coast, Newcastle, Geelong, Mt Gambier, Launceston and Busselton so our customers can get Telstra 5G in more places,” said Telstra’s Technology Development & Solutions Executive Channa Seneviratne, in a statement.

Telstra also said it has over 750,000 5G devices on its network and is adding thousands of new devices per week. However, it did not say how many of those 5G device users have actually bought a 5G subscription. And Telstra’s 5G plans cost more than 4G, incidentally. Given that the telco has a mobile customer base of close to 19 million, its take-up rate is clearly not huge. Not yet, at least.

Singling out Telstra like this is a bit unfair. Mobile operators the world over are sharing similar milestones in a bid to prove to consumers that they are leading in 5G and to persuade them to upgrade.

But the fact is, it’s very difficult to measure true progress in 5G rollout based on statistics like half of the population living in a coverage area. Mobile users need to be, well, mobile and it’s hard to assess exactly what sort of an experience they would get on 5G when out and about.

In the UK this week EE launched 5G in some new locations and took the opportunity to hit out at rivals for exaggerating network coverage claims and essentially using the marketing machine to persuade consumers of their 5G prowess. That may well be the case, and EE may well have better UK 5G coverage than its competitors, but no telco is entirely innocent of hyping up its own 5G position and no telco can claim to have shared an entirely transparent view of what would-be 5G customers can expect from their service.

That said, we should give Telstra some credit for its 5G rollout.

“We’ve made great progress but there’s still more work to do, which is why we’ve set our teams aggressive roll out targets to bring Telstra 5G to 75 per cent of the Australian population by the end of June this year,” said Seneviratne.

Here’s hoping it hits that target.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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