The expansion of 5G mobile networks will require a substantial increase in the amount of telecommunications infrastructure in the Hunter over coming years.
There has been a small flurry of development applications lodged with Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils in recent months, and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association says there will be more to come next year.
"Everybody is pushing the go button [on 5G]," AMTA chief executive Chris Althaus told the Newcastle Herald.
"The level of investment industry is applying across the board to 5G is very high.
"Logically it starts in the high-density urban areas, so capital cities and regional centres like Newcastle."
Lake Macquarie council is assessing three DAs from Optus for infrastructure at Glendale, Mount Hutton and Fennell Bay.
Optus has also lodged a DA for a tower in New Lambton, and plans to increase its number of 5G sites nationally from 230 to more than 1000 by March.
An Optus spokesman said the company had seven sites ready to go for its 5G rollout: Tighes Hill, Dudley, Belmont South, Speers Point, Belmont, John Hunter Hospital and south Wallsend.
"Residents in these areas can look forward to being some of the first in Australia to experience the benefits of 5G ... which will give them the ability to stream, download and share content like never before," he said.
Optus is establishing a Hunter 5G network sooner than Telstra, which has partial 5G coverage across 10 capital or regional cities.
"There is no 5G Telstra coverage in the Hunter but by June 2020 we expect to increase our 5G area almost five-fold, with coverage present in 35 Australian cities," a Telstra spokesman said.
Mr Althaus said 5G - "the next generation of mobile" - would operate "in partnership with 4G for the foreseeable future". "We've been on a generational change pathway since mobile began in the mid 80s," he said.
"5G takes us to the next level.
"It's in the market now and will continue to grow.
"Mobile generations tend to overlap, so 3G is still present in the market [and] we've turned off 2G. But the dominant generations are four and five is growing. In the not too distant future carriers will look to turn off 3G."
"If you look at the difference between 4G and 5G, there are three primary differences," Mr Althaus said.
"5G is going to be able to connect a lot more things. It's got the capacity to connect literally billions of things.
"5G will ultimately deliver a much faster network. The term we use is latency, the time taken for a message to go from your device to the network and back.
"The speed of 5G is going to eclipse 4G quite significantly. A standard latency figure for a 4G network is 30, 40 or 50 milliseconds. At its best, 5G networks will be down to one millisecond, which is effectively real-time."
"That sort of speed and responsiveness of the network is absolutely critical when you're dealing with some of the applications that will be served by 5G," Mr Althaus said of a faster network.
"If you're in an autonomously driven vehicle, you need that vehicle to be reacting in real-time to things around it. You can't have a long delay.
"Similarly, if you're engaged in some sort of remote surgery when the surgeon isn't in the room with you, you want absolute real-time performance."
Optus' planned Glendale tower drew almost 500 submissions concerned about visual impacts and health risks of 5G radio waves.
The concerns are aligned to how in 2021 mobile carriers will start using a new band of spectrum to support 5G.
"That spectrum is we what we call millimetre wave, which is by far and away a higher frequency than we've ever used before for mobile," Mr Althaus said.
"People see the fact that there's going to be a higher frequency used and they think that means a high power, and that's definitely not the case. All it means is the wavelength that we are using is shorter.
"It's great for carrying a lot of data and we've got an insatiable appetite for data. We all watch videos on our phones, we email, we social media. Millimetre wave is great for carrying a lot of data, trouble is it doesn't go very far, so that's where the small cells come in."
Small cells, already used for 4G, will become more common in a 5G network.
"Your typical mobile infrastructure is what we call a macro tower, or a base station, which sits somewhere and covers a geographical area," Mr Althaus said.
"That will still be used for 5G but ... there is going to be a layer of things called small cells. Smalls cells are not new and they're certainly not unique to 5G.
"People are used to wi-fi in their local area - wi-fi at a local shopping centre or restaurant. Well that wi-fi is supplied by a cell located nearby and small cells servicing 5G will be along those lines."
Mr Althaus said carriers had improved the placement of telecommunications infrastructure over the years.
"A lot of people want the connectivity and want to be able to use their device, but they typically don't want to see too much infrastructure in their surrounding environment," he said.
"People are concerned about the level of infrastructure, I don't think that is going to be a concern because the industry is getting very good at deploying this stuff in a sensitive way.
"No one wants an ugly landscape, so industry is looking at ways to make sure it's as sensitive as possible."
Neither Optus or Telstra provided specific information about where future infrastructure will be required. Optus said more sites would be needed, while Telstra is in a better position to make use of existing structures.
"Like any generation, coverage working out from the metropolitan areas into the regions takes time and there's no doubt 5G is going to require additional network infrastructure to be placed in our built environment," Mr Althaus said.
"You can't expect the sorts of performance characteristics that 5G is going to offer and the functionality it is going to deliver [without] improved, more efficient and better infrastructure. But there will be more."