news Australia’s number two telco Optus announced late last week that it had successfully completed what it said was the nation’s first 4G mobile broadband trial using 700MHz – a new mobile frequency providing wider coverage and faster speeds as compared to the existing 4G mobile services that used the 1800MHz spectrum.
Optus’ successful trial marked a critical step in delivering competitive 4G mobile services in regional and rural Australia. The 700 megahertz spectrum, commonly known as the digital dividend spectrum, had been made available as a result of the switch-over from analogue to digital television, and was to be auctioned in November 2012.
“Our trial was in Bendigo, regional Victoria over the past few months and I’m pleased to announce today that it has been a success,” said Optus chief executive Paul O’Sullivan. “We achieved peak download speeds of over 70 megabits per second. This wasn’t in the lab – it was in the middle of the Bendigo CBD.”
Optus Managing Director Günther Ottendorfer said the company used everyday scenarios to test the capability of the 700Mhz frequency to deliver 4G services. It tested a variety of Optus services and applications over the network, including smartphone apps, mobile TV services, Internet TV and online gaming. It also installed a High Definition (HD) video conferencing unit on the famous Bendigo tram and conducted HD video calls to staff at Optus’ headquarters in Sydney.
The conclusion was that 4G services using the 700Mhz frequency had the potential to offer a better experience for customers with peak download speeds reaching 70Mbps and upload speeds of 32Mbps.
What’s more, Optus demonstrated that 4G coverage delivered on 700MHz could be achieved over 13km from a single tower compared to the 3-6 km area covered by the existing 4G 1800MHZ spectrum – a significant fact when deploying high-speed mobile services across large distances. The Optus release said that despite mobile services operating alongside TV channels, there were no reports of interference either with local or out-of-area TV services.
Ottendorfer added that since the experiment was successful in Bendigo, Optus was excited by the potential of taking 4G services to more locations as soon as possible, benefiting customers in hitherto unreachable areas.
This new development comes just about a month after Optus bought wireless broadband player Vividwireless in its bid to create a new 4G mobile broadband network across Australia. At that time, Optus had said that the deal would give it access to up to 98Mhz of wireless spectrum in the 2.3GHz band — a band which was already used by “some of the world’s leading operators” to provide 4G services.
It planned to use this spectrum “to build a new 4G network using LTE-TDD technology”. Optus planned to integrate this with its 1800MHz network, which would be launched in Newcastle and the Hunter region of NSW in April 2012, and which would provide increased mobile speeds to their customers in metropolitan Australia.
It all sounds rather nice, but we haven’t yet heard much about when Optus will actually deploy these 4G services. Meanwhile, Telstra has been signing up new customers to its fledgling 4G network — which is actually commercially ready right now in metropolitan CBDs — at a rate of knots. We’ll have some more info on that later this week.
Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay