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5G future nears as Telstra completes first Australian live test

Telstra promises low latency, high speeds, better reception and futuristic VR and AR experiences.

5G promises lower latency, bringing with it better virtual and augmented reality experiences.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Flawless VR experiences, driverless cars, mobile signals beamed directly to your phone -- Telstra is talking up the potential of 5G technology for all Australians after successfully completing the first live trials of 5G in Australia.

The 5G test, which was also one of the first in the world, took place in Melbourne in partnership with Ericsson, and included live video streaming and speed demonstrations. Telstra says it's the first time 5G has been trialled on Australian soil in "an outdoor 'real world' environment."

As part of the test, Telstra also trialled beam steering technology, which directs a mobile signal straight to a device (rather than across a broad area) which Telstra said results in a better signal and better network performance.

The test is just another step forward in the global race towards commercialising 5G technology.

After successfully showing off 1Gbps LTE speeds at the end of 2015, Telstra has promised further 5G trials at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, carriers around the world are battling to bring commercially viable 5G to market, with US operator Verizon hoping for "some level of commercial deployment" in 2017, and South Korean telco SK Telekom saying it will "spare no efforts to achieve the world's first" commercial 5G service.

Telstra trialled 5G beam steering technology, which allows a mobile signal to be targeted to a specific device (in this case, inside a van).

Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

While Telstra says 5G technology isn't due to be commercially available in Australia until 2020, the company's chief technology officer Philip Jones says the trials give a "true sense" of the potential of 5G.

"During the outdoor trial we saw total download speeds (to two mobiles) of greater than 20 Gbps, so there's no doubt 5G is going to be a lot faster than today's mobile networks, but it will also deliver a much lower latency," he said.

Lower latency refers to the time it takes to send a signal from your mobile to the network and back again, and it's one of the key selling points of 5G.

"We know this lower latency will have a huge impact on future gaming and immersive experiences, virtual and augmented reality, and IoT," said Jones. "The results we have seen are extremely promising, particularly at this early stage of the technology."