The Chief Executive of Vodafone in Ireland has said that 5G mobile technology could be used as a complementary rather than a replacement solution for bringing high speed broadband to rural Ireland.

Anne O'Leary was speaking as the company made the first international holographic call from this country, as a way of showcasing the capabilities of fifth generation mobile networks.

The call was made from the Dublin docklands, where Vodafone has set up Ireland's first live 5G network site, to Max Gasparroni, Vodafone Ireland interim Chief Technology Officer, who was at the company's innovation centre in Germany.

"I think it is certainly a complementary technology for Ireland and for rural broadband and for rural Ireland," said Ms O'Leary.

"We will certainly be using it to roll out the best voice and data network throughout Ireland.

"Obviously 4G and 5G is better for outdoor, but fixed fibre technology is always better for indoor coverage," she said.

"But certainly it can be used in areas that can be hard to get to or extremely expensive."

Her comments come as the government considers how to proceed with its troubled National Broadband Plan.

Amid growing uncertainty around the future of the plan that aims to bring fibre-optic connectivity to 542,000 premises around the country, there has been a growing debate about whether the state should consider using other forms of technology instead, including mobile or wireless networks.

5G offers a range of enhancements on 4G technology, including much higher data speeds of up to several gigabits per second, lower lag or delay, better reliability and the ability to connect many more devices to the network at once.

The Vodafone docklands test bed will use standardised 5G equipment supplied by Ericsson and will be used to trial hardware, software and services.

Vodafone plans to start rolling out 5G services to consumers and businesses by the end of next year when commercial devices become available.

"What operators are doing now globally is that they are starting to roll out 5G in big cities and then you reuse all the same infrastructure that you used for 4G, so you reuse all the sites," said Hans Hammar, Global 5G Director at Ericsson.

"Then you gradually will deploy that over the country, but also being able to introduce 5G within existing infrastructure, so it doesn't mean you automatically have to deploy a completely new network.

"So from that point of view it can be quite a cost effective way of deploying new capabilities," he said.

Eventually, Vodafone says, the technology will used for a wide range of applications, including self-driving cars, robotic surgery and real-time virtual gaming.

In order to progress the production of such applications, Vodafone and Ericsson have partnered with NovaUCD to develop a 5G accelerator programme.

It will see participants develop business plans and test the commercial potential and feasibility of products and services.

"We want to support small business in terms of getting advice, mentoring, access to finance and ideas," said Anne O'Leary. 

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