update Troubled mobile telco Vodafone Hutchison Australia has revealed it will install new radio equipment at all of its 8,000-odd mobile base stations around the nation, in a giant network rollout of unprecedented scope in the Australian market which will see incumbent suppliers Nokia Siemens Networks and Ericsson dumped in favour of Chinese vendor Huawei.

“Vodafone is also working with world-leading network technology vendor, Huawei to replace 2G and 3G equipment at all base stations throughout Australia (which makes up the radio access network (RAN)) as part of its overall plan to improve mobile coverage and download speeds,” the company said in a statement this morning, in which it also apologised to customers for its recent network problems and outlined a range of initiatives, both technical and organisational, to resolve them.

“The national 2G and 3G RAN replacement project will see engineers targeting the most congested and highest demand sites first. All radio equipment at around 8,000 sites will be replaced over the next 18 months. Current model mobile phones and mobile broadband devices are compatible with the new radio equipment, so there’s no need for customers to do anything as we replace the equipment.”

The company’s choice of Huawei leaves its current vendors, Swedish firm Ericsson and Finnish company Nokia Siemens Networks, out in the cold, and suddenly vaults the Chinese company into a position of prominence in the Australian mobile networking industry. The size of the contract has not been disclosed.

In a later statement, Huawei and Vodafone clarified that some 5,800 existing base stations would receive the new Huawei equipment as well as more than 2,200 new sites to be constructed, with the rollout to take place over the next 18 months. The new network will be capable of maximum theoretical speeds of 42Mbps, and Vodafone is also working with Huawei to prepare the Vodafone network for an upgrade to 4G or LTE — which allows maximum theoretical download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

“Vodafone and Huawei undertook live trials of LTE technology in Newcastle during the last quarter of 2010 and achieved download speeds of up to 74.3 Mbps, under test conditions,” the pair said.

The contract will also see Huawei recruit some 300 new technical staff in Australia — as well as an expected 200 additional subscontractors — more than doubling the networking giant’s current number of staff in Australia and helping it to push against larger rivals Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent, all of which have major contracts with Australia’s telcos.

Getting back to basics
In October 2010, VHA unveiled plans to expand and consolidate its 3G mobile network, as well as construct a new network which will use the 850MHz spectrum. The project included a decision to scrap its 2100MHz network for 2012. But in early November 2010, VHA customers started to experience slow download and upload speeds, as well as limited coverage in both Australia and New Zealand.

When disservice happened in late 2010, VHA claimed instability was partially due to a software fault. Today, the telco got back to its customers admitting it was not prepared to face the growth in data usage, brought by the popularity of smartphones and mobile broadband. VHA chief executive officer, Nigel Dews, wrote to customers to apologise for the disservice delivered in the past three months, reiterating VHA was not ready to face its growth.

“Some of you have experienced issues including dropped calls, delayed SMS and voicemails, slow data speeds, inconsistent coverage and long waits when you called us,” he said. “The simple answer is that we’ve been growing fast, and when problems came, we responded too slowly”.

From a technical point of view, VHA chief technology officer Michael Young said faults in software were detected while launching the upgrade of the network. “As we worked through upgrading and adding new capacity into the network we experienced some software faults which added to a very frustrating network experience for some customers,” he said. “We also discovered that some of the new and upgraded sites were either resetting autonomously or interfering with other neighbouring sites”.

Young said VHA has worked to correct those software issues immediately and it was now working on injecting more capacity and coverage into the network. He added the new appointment of Barry Kezik as general manager for Network Performance was also aiming at improving the telco’s data and voice delivery over its network.

Dews concluded customer service was also being enhanced by extra human resources. “To make it easier to talk to us we have also added 300 more customer service staff to help you,” he said. “We’re also opening a new online customer forum for you to share your experiences, tips and questions with other Vodafone customers and us”.

VHA said customers would be able to monitor network coverage and status through a new online service which matches postal codes to detailed information about site congestion and maintenance. Furthermore, a new “call-back” option has been put in place to ensure customers wouldn’t have to wait on hold during peak times.

Enhancing customer service could prove to be crucial for VHA, after the Australian Privacy Commissioner last week found the telco was in breach of the Privacy Act last year, when individuals gained access to one of its store passwords and thus to customer’s personal information.

“We have responded quickly, are taking action and have brought forward the implementation of a number of enhanced security measures to better protect all customer information, a number of which have already been completed,” the company said in a statement.

Image credits: Vodafone


  1. Would it not make sense for Vodafone and Optus to collaborate on a national rollout and wholesale the service to themselves?

    The last thing Australia needs is 2 average networks (Vodafone and Optus) sending themselves broke trying to catch up with 1 good network that has a 3 year head start (Telstra)….that doesn’t amount to real competition, just duplication.

      • Only in the cities…they run separate networks across most of the country.


        Reading this page, it looks like they’ve tried to do things on the cheap at every opportunity. I guess the chickens are coming home to roost. Optus is in a similar position – it’s only their pricing that allows them to maintain relevance and me as a customer.

        • True — neither Optus nor Vodafone placed the big bets on mobile that Telstra (and earlier, when 3G first came into the market) and Hutchison did. They have continually spent money on their networks, but not big chunks of billion-dollar money — more smaller parcels.

          • Vodafone ( and to a lesser extent optus) have always skimped on their network when you compare them to telstra. Much the same as hungry jacks vs macdonalds, they have historically been the ‘cheaper alternative’ offering a service that is acceptable to most users.

            2-3 years ago, if you wanted the absolute cheapest rates you would have picked 3. Then a toss up between voda and optus, depending on coverage in your area – both being significantly cheaper than telstra. For a premium service at a premium price anyone would opt telstra.

            As demand on networks has increased not only has the underinvestment in infrastructure become more obvious, but at the same time telstra has significantly dropped their pricing.

            Whereas a few years ago customers were paying less than telstra prices, they had less reason to complain. Now that telstra pricing has dropped, bargain pricing by 3 etc has disappeared – cusomters across all networks are paying a similair price and receiving far from comparable services. In times gone by peole accepted this, they paid less and were willing to let it slip.. Things are chaning and voda and optus are having to play catch up.

  2. Vodafone have little choice but to replace their network after the years of hubris and neglect. I’m definitely not a Telstra fan, but at least they have always worked closely with their base station supplier (Ericsson) to bring future technologies to market as soon as possible.

    Of course Vodafone could see the growth in data use. They could see Telstra investing in NextG and LTE and sat back and watched. It’s only now, with the public outcry and threat of legal action, has Vodafone decided to take action. I think it’s too little too late.

    • Actually it looks like the tenders for this network replacement deal went out quite some time ago — it wasn’t a direct reaction to the customer complaints in the latter half of 2010.

      • If that’s the case, then it’s even more annoying. They KNEW the network was saturated and needed a massive upgrade. They knew it was having problems. They played down all of that, and sent long time customers like myself (customer for something like 12 years now) on a friggan wild goose chase..

        “Oh it could be your sim card, come in and replace it.. ” …”Oh could be your handset”… etc.

      • I work on tenders all the time, and it’s true that a tender of this size – (could be as much as $1b or more) – isn’t something that’s gonna be rushed. Their LTE trials were done around Newcastle using Huawei gear, so it’s been on the radar for a while – certainly longer than the appearance of their network issues.

        I’m sure that the network issues they’ve been suffering have certainly upped the urgency. VHA still has a lot of 2G gear out there – (my phone drops back to 2G data on a small section of the rail line to/from work) – and I’d be stunned if they’ve not been planning to get rid of these as part of an LTE upgrade.

        Their biggest problem has been the lack of transparency. People would have been happier if they were honest and upfront.

  3. It’s still broken around where I live / work and also around sydney cbd around central. I went to perth recently, broken there too.

    That’s all well and good that they are doing this, but it should have started a year ago. I need a service that works today.

    • I’m afraid this is going to be a common refrain over the next year … but at least VHA is targeting the known problem spots first with this rollout.

  4. This saying describes my overall experience with Vodafone as a former customer ..

    “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”

    Bye bye Vodafone forever.

  5. Too little too late, roll out LTE *NOW* be ahead of the game, in stead of 3 years behind it. Either way, it’s really too little too late, about 3 months ago I switched from Voda to Telstra, sure I pay twice as much now, but it is so worth it, I would pay three times as much to have this coverage and data speed. The coverage is just everywhere, it’s 100% reliable. I have a mobile phone to be mobile, not to use whenever I am in a CBD near a tower that may or may not be working.

      • Technically 100% is possible, its just cost prohibitive!
        Realistically, if I use my phone 5 times a day, and it works every time I try to use it, its 100% reliable to me.

        VHA do not have that right now for quite a few of their customer base, me included. I’ll be shifting to Telstra in the next 2 weeks and I dont think I’ll be looking back from it.

  6. They’re replacing the 3G network, and not rolling out LTE at the same time? Bizarre.

  7. Does VHA now share the 3 and vodafone networks? Ie. will your phone roam between the two if coverage was poor on the vodafone network?

  8. This is a serious problem for Vodafone users. Huawei routers have known “back door” access for Chinese hackers and the Chinese government. With an entire network of Huawei equipment, security of everyone’s vodafone mobile is at high risk.

  9. 5 years ago VHA for some moronic reason the COO or CEO, (I can’t remember which), who was also as dumb as a box of hammers, thought that it would be a good strategy to announce to the world, that they would “double profits and halve costs”. This crippling debacle is the net result. Geesus they are (were?) Dumb. You’re in a technology business you have to keep evolving or you’ll get left behind. And now they have. A couple of years of fast profits has now cost them a few billion on a re-deploying their network and losing customer credibility for at least another 12 months. this is the have been interesting

  10. It is still snake oil sales spin.

    Im currently sitting on the phone waiting to talk to their absolutely inefficient and in compotent sales team.
    Third time I have had to contact them regarding the exact same bill and the exact same issue.
    They still havent fixed it.

    If they cant correct a bill despite phoning them 3 times there is no possible way they can fix or improve there absolutely rubbish network.

    I certainly will not be renewing my contract with them when it expires in the next few months.

  11. I can’t understand why they would go for a new 850Mhz 3G network when LTE is right around the corner.
    Even if they have to wait a little longer, don’t invest in outdated infrastructure!

    • It could have something to do with some of the problems LTE, particularly TD-LTE is having in trials overseas.
      Sure it’s fast, but it appears there are significant problems with interference to all kinds of electronic equipment, similar to, but much worse than GSM buzzing.

      Also, there are some questions being raised about possible long term heath effects from using LTE phones (could be worse than TDMA (GSM)). CDMA & W-CDMA (3G) abated some of those concerns but a return to a time division (pulsed) system is likely to raise them again.

      I wonder if the Telsta trials looked at interference and health issues? Probably not.

      • Hush. What health issues, mate?
        HSDPA+ is bad enough (when very active)
        LTE is NOT TDMA, it has same orthogonal coding as WCDMA but different algorithms, denser coding. Since molecules of your brain are multi-dimensional anntennas, a different digital density or encoding can have different effects. Heating, breaking…
        I am the one who does not want LTE until it’s 15 years old and we have enough number of people with enough exposure, for statistics.

        • There are two versions of LTE, FDD-LTE (or FD-LTE) and TD-LTE. I understand that Telstra have picked TD-LTE, although now I’m hearing some conflicting reports about their version.
          The TD in TD-LTE stands for Time Division and the FD in FD-LTE stands for Frequency Division.
          It is the Time Division version of LTE that I am particularly concerned with, and overseas has been causing interference problems.
          TD-LTE can cause buzzing similar to GSM (TDMA).
          I never said that LTE uses TDMA or is TDMA, just that TD-LTE uses Time Division, and suggested that it is this pulsed transmission that is the likely interference culprit and health risk!
          I would be much happier if Telstra pick FD-LTE.

          • “Let’s see the handsets first”
            If Telstra want to become isolated like Verizon in US, they will pick TD-LTE. Or if they want cheap Chinese hardware.
            But I did not even think they’d do that. It would require full RAN swap. Current radios are Ericcson-made, and Europe moves with FD-LTE.

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