By Leo Clifford, with contributors Krisztian Som, Paul McCowan, Philip Matson, Brett Seriani, Andrew Speirs-Bridge.

As the telecommunications industry has seen a busy start to its 2018, the TPG wireless roll out seems to be continuing quietly in the background as it attempts to have its primary metro clusters built by mid-2018. Since the rollout announcement last year, I have not heard much other than a handful of articles in the media, and noticing a few of my contacts join TPG’s engineering and site acquisition teams. Getting info on the rollout is almost as difficult as getting a selfie with David Teoh. A few TPG insiders know what’s really going on, and there’s a lot of speculation among industry professionals.

A point that came up in the discussions following my last post on this topic (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/contemplating-tpg-wireless-rollout-leo-clifford/) was the potential merger with Vodafone and the ability to then deliver a regional mobile network, which seems quite possible. It’s worth noting that TPG currently wholesales Vodafone’s 4G network and has a subscriber base of about 500,000, and it is reported that the three-year roll out covering approximately 2500 sites across the country will break even once TPG acquires 500,000 subscribers.

Throwing in a fourth MNO, what opportunities and challenges are ahead for telco vendors and service provider organisations – and can Australia really handle a fourth?

And will TPG build a 5G network early on considering this is just kicking off in overseas networks such as the US, where Verizon announced Ericsson as vendor for Core and RAN, and in Japan where Nokia won NTT.  Optus has announced plans to roll out 5G in early 2019, and perhaps TPG has an opportunity here?

To elaborate on these questions/discussion points and perhaps fill in some gaps, I approached five wireless telecommunications professionals for their opinions. Because this is a sensitive issue for organisations involved (or wanting to be involved) in the roll out, some participants are anonymous.

How do you see the roll out playing out in the next few years for TPG?

In my view TPG’s plan is to roll out a 4G network in Metro first in major capital cities starting with Wireless Mobile broadband service only (low hanging fruit). Currently the focus is on small cells (rightly so) which can be installed on light infrastructure such as light poles, utility poles in large numbers. It provides the required capacity density per subscriber and also fast time to market. TPG would be in a unique position to easily introduce VoLTE voice later as they do not have to deal with the migration of legacy services and infrastructure, i.e., 3G. One issue I can see is spectrum. TPG do not have much compared to other operators hence deploying a national mobile network is very ambitious. They have over 450k MVNO customers which can potentially be converted and brought onto TPG’s own 4G network.Anonymous – Wireless Manager

Slowly at first. Probably 1 metro area for trials, etc. Then across the other 7 metro areas. Paul McCowan – Construction & Deployment Manager

TPG will likely reset mobile pricing and introduce 4G as a viable alternative to NBN fixed broadband. Andrew Speirs-Bridge – Strategy and Business Development

TPG are using small cell technology as a cost saver (SAE). TPG intends, where possible, to deploy small cells on street light poles, providing coverage to main highways and by-ways, and to use co-location agreements for coverage to residential areas. TPG will concentrate its deployment on Canberra firstly, Sydney/Melbourne secondly and then Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as their RF plans progress and confirmed for commercial acceptance. Main east coast cities to be deployed in the “018-019” period and depending on budgets, Perth may follow in 019-20. In-fill site planning may take deployment budgets from Hobart, Adelaide and Perth to fund in-fill installations. Perth may be unaffected as ACMA may place time restrictions to deploy the spectrum if TPG wants to keep their regional licences issued. The delay in NBN rollouts for high speed fibre may cause some delays in geographical areas. I believe TPG will focus on the wireless Broadband market with a scalable technology to 5G as equipment becomes available and becomes cost effective. Philip Matson – Program Director

TPG has sufficient spectrum with both Lowband and Highband frequencies, to provide viable and a competitive service option to the rural locations of Australia. TPG and Vodafone have an existing agreement together in regards to TPG providing fibre to Vodafone’s network. The project is to be completed within the next couple years. Anonymous – Senior Project Manager

What does the TPG roll out mean for your organisation or your particular area within telecommunications?

Means little yet, as TPG has not yet announced its coverage plans, regional budgets, schedules or its customer packages. From a deployment point of view, TPG are yet to announce its contractor partnerships whether based on tier one contractors or to pursue regionally based contractors. Therefore, it’s not yet known what opportunities TPG will be presenting. Philip Matson – Program Director

It means an alternate carrier that we can provide an end to end solution, or just as a material vendor. Anonymous – Senior Construction Manager

TPG are the first new mobile network since OneTel. The organization I was working for primarily saw this as an opportunity to lease more antenna sites. Andrew Speirs-Bridge – Strategy and Business Development

Our organisation is not playing in the 4G RAN infrastructure space in Australia, however TPG is our existing customer for Microwave backhaul through the iiNet acquisition. Our opportunity will be small cell Microwave backhaul where fibre is not available (E-band, V-band, and Multi band radios), Traffic optimisation, OSS/BSS). Anonymous – Wireless Manager

Can Australia support/handle four MNO’s (mobile network operators)?

Australia does not have the population to support 4 MNO’s. History dictates. It is inevitable for TPG and Vodafone to merge into one Telecommunications Provider.Anonymous – Senior Project Manager

No it’s makes most sense for Vodafone and TPG to join forces with a compelling alternative to the NBN in metropolitan areas with a mobile service thrown in for free. Andrew Speirs-Bridge – Strategy and Business Development

If TPG manage to deploy their network well and can introduce voice services I think the biggest loser would be Vodafone as most customers TPG would transition from their MVNO business to their own network would be from Vodafone. The Vodafone network got a lot of media attention due to the ongoing network issues after the Voda/Hutch merge, which left a lot of scars on subscribers. TPG is the second largest ISP after the iiNet acquisition after Telstra, with a huge potential broadband customer base they can bring onto their new 4G network by bundling fix and mobile broadband services. Anonymous – Wireless Manager

History says No. The “3” network is testament to a failed attempt to compete directly with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for the voice market. I also hasten to add that there is another private network provider that can/could place even more competitive pressure on TPG for the broadband market. That is NNN! NNN is still going through capital raising funding so TPG will need not to dally if they want a competitive edge on the wireless broadband market. Philip Matson – Program Director

Yes. Hutchison/ 3 is the perfect example that 4 can be suitable if managed well. Paul McCowan – Construction & Deployment Manager

Considering 5G technology, how do you think carriers (including TPG) will act upon this technology in terms of services and also infrastructure projects?

Unlike 4G, 5G won’t offer a significantly different user experience for mobile hand set users. The killer app for 5G has yet to be identified. Whilst there is plenty of hype I personally think there won’t be enough user up take of 5G to drive the network investment. 4G networks will slowly evolve to 5G as the deployed 4G equipment becomes end of life. Andrew Speirs-Bridge – Strategy and Business Development

Entrance of TPG into the wireless broadband market will be welcomed by the populace as Telstra/Optus/Vodafone and to a lesser degree, NNN. However, if focussing on 5G as its main platform, benefits to the consumer will be felt mainly in the city central areas, outer metro secondly. My experience would suggest the main Telcos will offer customer plans below the rates TPG could offer for a short period of time as ACMA will be watching for anti competitive methods. With TPG and the main carriers operating on the full version of 5G (Not 4.5G) will in the short term ( 2-3 years), place competitive pressure on NBN, as its well known NBN can not guarantee internet speeds. New comers like TPG will try to gain leverage to access commercial customers with enterprise broadband plans. NNN is already focused on commercial customers only and will be offering higher data transfer rates than the main Telcos and TPG. Optus/Telstra and Vodafone will not sit idly by while TPG tries to gain market share, so will offer increased Data usage rates for essentially at the same contract price. Infrastructure skills and availability may have some impacts as Optus have entered into a new round of network rollouts and Telstra continues its black spot program, so contractor competencies may not be at the levels required for a quality build for TPG. However, saying that, I do see opportunities for lower tier contractors to expand their business providing there is a willingness to “ramp up” and increase operating budgets to be part of the rollouts. I do not see a “bonanza” of work being issued but a very price conscious rollout that may deter some of the bigger tier one companies and some smaller companies who may believe the profits may not reflect the risks. This may attract the interests of tier one companies who are wanting to enter into the wireless market at a national level.Philip Matson – Program Director

With MMIMO trials happening & concluding, it will be implemented but my belief is that it will be selective placement. At least at first. Based around population, sporting and tourist spots. For example, Metricon Stadium on Gold Coast for Commonwealth Games; and Darling Harbour, Sydney. Airports as well. Paul McCowan – Construction & Deployment Manager

There is a lot of noise around 5G, I do not think TPG would think too much about it. Again 5G is about Carrier aggregation which needs a lot of spectrum which TPG does not have. I am sure they will jump on the 5G marketing bandwagon and announce plans to make their 4G launch more interesting to the public, but I still believe currently there is no real business case for mobile operators to launch 5G services. They are still trying to have a return on their 4G investment in an environment where customers want more for less. 5G is a forklift upgrade from 4G a very expensive proposition. Anonymous – Wireless Manager

5G will redefine how Carriers operate and what services they offer. Spectrum is going to be the key factor for the success of the Carriers. Fibre technology will be necessary for both backhaul and fronthaul applications within the RAN Anonymous – Senior Project Manager

Thanks to everyone for their time contributing to this discussion, and all the best to the TPG team working on this project. Being involved in a network launch is high pressure work, yet exciting. It would be great to hear from the team about some of the build goals being kicked as they happen.

What do you know about the roll out and what are your thoughts on the responses above? Feel free to comment.  And if you enjoy my posts please send me an invite to connect on Linked In.