news National broadband provider Optus has upgraded its mobile network in the Newcastle and surrounding region to support fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband speeds, in a test deployment ahead of a wider national rollout planned for later this year.
In a statement issued today, the telco said it had activated the network for “select customers” across greater Newcastle, as well as in Port Stephens and the Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie areas. Customers will initially receive the 4G services for free, in exchange for feedback on how the network is performing and device capability. The telco said it was planning to launch a capital city 4G network from mid-2012, with Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to receive the upgraded services first, and phase two hitting Brisbane and Adelaide from the first half of 2013.
“Our focus for 4G is to deliver the best experience to our customers. The rollout of our 4G network in Newcastle means customers can do more of the things they love; whether that’s uploading photos to Facebook more quickly, watching videos on YouTube and Vimeo, or streaming their favourite podcasts while on the move,” said Günther Ottendorfer, Optus Managing Director Networks.
“We are also excited about the new opportunities that 4G will provide to our business customers. They will be able to send and receive large files much quicker, or collaborate with their colleagues via video or web conferencing. “Today marks the first step towards Australians having a choice for 4G services so they can connect and interact in new ways. By working with our customers to gather their feedback, Optus aims to continually enhance its 4G network and ensure that customers have an outstanding experience now, and into the future.
Customers will initially receive Optus 4G wireless dongles, with business customers to also receive mobile Wi-Fi adapters. 4G-compatible handsets will be available to Optus customers “over the coming months”. For a complete network map of Optus’ 4G coverage in Newcastle, click the image to the right to have it expand fully.
Optus’ Newcastle 4G network uses the 1800Mhz spectrum band which Telstra is also using for its existing 4G network, which went live late in 2011 and is already in the central business districts of most of Australia’s major cities, as well as in other areas such as airports. Vodafone is also experimenting with 4G but has not yet disclosed its rollout plans. Telstra has said it already has 100,000 connections to its 4G network.
Optus is also tinkering with the 2.3GHz and 700MHz spectrum bands, however. In February, the telco bought wireless telco Vividwireless, saying the deal would deliver 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. And in March, the telco announced 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.
Telstra has already responded to Optus’ 4G announcement in Newcastle. On Tuesday the telco said it had kicked off the second phase of its 4G rollout in Newcastle, with a number of new suburbs slated to receive the faster coverage in the coming months.
Telstra Area General Manager Chris Cusack said the upcoming expansion would bring 4G coverage to suburbs such as Broadmeadow, Callaghan, Georgetown, Jesmond, Kotara East, Lambton, Mayfield, Mayfield West, Waratah and Waratah West. To mark the upcoming expansion of the 4G coverage, Telstra is setting up a 4G experience zone in Marketown Shopping Centre this week where Newcastle residents can get hands on with the latest 4G smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband devices. The zone is open 9am to 5pm Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and is located directly outside the Telstra Store.
Optus has not yet confirmed what speeds its 4G network will support. Telstra’s 4G network delivers typical download speeds of 2Mbps to 40Mbps, with typical upload speeds of 1Mbps to 10Mbps.
I find three things interesting regarding Optus’ announcement and Telstra’s expansion of 4G services in the Newcastle region.
Firstly, I am curious as to what Optus means when it says “4G compatible handsets will be available to Optus customers over the coming months.”
So far, Telstra has only launched a couple of 4G handsets — a model from HTC, and a 4G version of the Samsung Galaxy S II. In addition, it is believed that it will shortly launch the HTC One XL, which is 4G-capable, and the HTC Titan II, which also supports 4G speeds. Now, I had believed that most of these handsets were exclusives to Telstra, and certainly I wouldn’t expect HTC or Samsung to be making much money from the handsets were they to launch with Optus in the short-term, as it will take a year or more for Optus’ 4G network to ramp to scale, which Telstra’s is already doing.
This begs the question of what 4G handsets Optus will be providing to its customers? Will it also have access to hardware from Samsung and HTC? Or will it be making do with re-badged kit from Chinese vendors like Huawei and ZTE? Optus has used ZTE before; when it launched its My Tab tablet. And it has an existing relationship with Huawei courtesy of its 700MHz 4G trial and on some prepaid handsets.
Speaking of Huawei, is Huawei involved in supplying Optus with end user mobile broadband dongles and such? I ask because the company has been a key supplier of such equipment to Vodafone. It would be fascinating indeed if the company which has recently been vilified as an agent of the Chinese Government and military became one of the faces of Optus’ 4G rollout. That would be interesting indeed.
Secondly, Telstra’s pre-emptive strike on Newcastle this week reminds me deeply of another network rollout exercise in Australia: The HFC cable deployment a decade ago, where Telstra cable trucks notoriously followed Optus trucks wherever they went, laying competitive cable in all the areas Optus was targeting. Will we see the same behaviour from Telstra during Optus’ 4G rollout? No doubt we will.
And lastly, one cannot help but wonder what Vodafone must think about all of this. Vodafone is currently trying to desperately to stop the customer bleed by upgrading its existing 3G network. Optus is already quite a long way behind Telstra when it comes to its 4G rollout — perhaps as much as a year or so. So how far behind Optus will Vodafone fall?