Spark launches 5G in Palmerston North, promises rollout in four more cities by end of 2020

Spark has launched 5G in Palmerston North, with the telco promising four more cities will get the speedy wireless technology by the end of 2020.

The rollout sees Manawatū become the first region in New Zealand to have access to 5G on both mobile and wireless broadband, after launching a fixed wireless service in a select few South Island towns last year.

It's the latest move in the race to provide widespread 5G coverage in New Zealand, which also saw Vodafone set up a network in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown late last year.

Spark says customers there with 5G-enabled mobile phones will have free access to 5G until at least July 2021, while those who want access to faster wireless broadband will have to sign up for a paid plan.

In a press release, Spark cited NERA Economic Consulting research it commissioned in saying 5G was likely to add between $5.7 billion and $8.9 billion per year to the New Zealand economy over the next decade - including $135 million to the local Palmerston North economy.

Spark's move into Palmerston North follows the Government's recent allocation of its 5G C-band spectrum, announced in May after the cancellation of its scheduled 5G spectrum auction due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Communications Minister Kris Faafoi decided to make 10Hz spectrum allotments available for a fixed $125,000 - well below what they could have sold for - to ensure the service is up and running quickly and can aid in the "bounce-back of the economy".

Palmerston North City Council chief customer officer, Chris Dyhrberg, says the local rollout is "a critical step" for the city.

"Our aspiration is to be a city that drives and supports innovation and entrepreneurship and 5G is an enabler of this - providing significantly faster speeds and considerably more capacity than previous generations of mobile technology," he said.

"The 5G rollout in Palmerston North is a perfect example of how we provide and support smart technology that further cements Palmerston North as a smart city now and into the future."

Spark chief executive Jolie Hodson described it as "a major milestone in what will be a long-term and significant investment in 5G infrastructure across the country".

"We believe in the potential of 5G technology to solve some of our country's greatest challenges, and never has this been more critical as we adapt to new ways of working, learning and connecting as a country."