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Optus to launch 5G router in January 2019

Optus is promising to get 5G into homes in the new year, but you'll have to pay for the privilege of high speeds (and 5G handsets are still a way off).

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Optus' 5G router on show at the telco's 5G Live showcase on the Gold Coast. 

Claire Reilly/CNET

The ultrafast speeds of 5G are coming, and they could be at your place as soon as January 2019.

Optus announced Thursday that it's in the final stages of testing a commercial 5G router for consumers, and that the hardware should be ready to launch at the start of the new year.

"We want to make sure Australia is one of the first markets in the world to have commercial 5G," said Optus CEO Allen Lew. 

The telco showed off the heft of the new router at its 5G Live showcase on the Gold Coast, where it was used to power live demos of things like VR soccer and low-latency robots that respond to human movements in real time.

The massive marquee on Broadbeach featured six different demonstrations showcasing the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G. But perhaps most impressively, all the demos were running off the same router, which was achieving speeds of more than 16Gbps.

It's that router -- which is currently about the size of a 2-litre bottle of milk and still being tweaked -- that Optus is hoping to sell to consumers in the new year.

But the big question is how much you'll have to pay to experience the benefits of 5G, and whether it will replace the other services on offer (specifically, the NBN).

Speaking at the 5G Live showcase on Thursday, Lew was not talking price, but indicated consumers should expect to pay more than what they currently do for home broadband. 

"We will obviously price it in a way that reflects the quality of the service, the features and attributes of the service," said Lew. "Clearly 5G will have certain attributes that existing technologies don't have, and we will take that into consideration."

So 5G will bring you amazing speeds and fantastic experiences, but you're going to have to pay for the privilege.

As for whether or not Optus reckons you'll still need the NBN, Lew was circumspect.

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Optus has kitted out a van to live-stream 8K video using 5G. 

Claire Reilly/CNET

"Let's not talk about whether it can replace NBN or not," he said.

"The reality is, people will have a choice. They will choose whichever service meets their needs. NBN is an option. Today people can already use 4G for a home wireless broadband service … 5G will be another option that individuals can choose."

Regardless of whether you're connected to NBN or 5G in your home, you still have a while to wait before you have a 5G smartphone. 

For that, we still need to wait for the world's wireless carriers, chip providers and device manufacturers to come together and agree on 5G standards -- a meeting set to take place in September this year (also on the Gold Coast). From there, Lew says "the first mobile devices will probably come in the second half of 2019."

At this stage, Optus has made 5G "transportable" (if not completely mobile) by sticking their hardware in the boot of a van and live-streaming 8K video to a TV set up in the backseat. But don't expect to go far -- Optus is currently achieving a range of about 800 metres from its single 5G tower to the van. This could be fixed with more 5G cells dotted around metro areas. But either way, fully-mobile 5G is still a way off.

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