news National broadband provider Internode has revealed it expects to launch 4G mobile broadband services through Optus’ fledgling LTE mobile network, following other Optus mobile resellers in getting access to the next-generation wireless infrastructure.
Internode currently resells 3G Optus mobile broadband services, as does its parent iiNet. The pair offer some of highest quota mobile plans currently available in Australia, with Internode, for example, offering an 18GB plan costing $79.95 monthly, and iiNet offering a plan with 10GB of on-peak and 10GB of off-peak data for $59.95 a month, or $54.95 a month when bundled with other services.
At a significant launch event last week in Sydney, Optus revealed it had more than 500 mobile towers enabled for 4G services, and had started selling commercial 4G services to business customers in Sydney and Perth, following successful trials of the new network in Newcastle over the past few months involving around a thousand customers.
In a post on Whirlpool this week, Internode founder Simon Hackett said the company was “expecting to offer 4G/LTE services via Internode”, but such services wouldn’t “necessarily” be available concurrently with Optus’ own retail launch of 4G services. “Some more work is likely to be needed on the wholesale interface side to enable it,” he wrote.
The news comes as other Optus resellers have also reportedly confirmed they will shortly be launching 4G mobile services on the SingTel subsidiary’s new platform. Computerworld reported last week that Virgin Mobile, Amaysim and Boost Mobile were also planning to launch 4G mobile services on the back of the Optus network. Any launch of 4G services by Internode is also likely to be accompanied by a similar launch across the other brands owned by its parent iiNet – Netspace, Westnet, TransACT and so on.
One question will be what end user hardware Internode will launch with its 4G offering. Optus currently has two devices available – a USB dongle and a handheld Wi-Fi 4G router – both produced by Chinese networking vendor Huawei. Internode currently sells two devices to access Optus’ network, one also by Huawei and one by fellow Chinese company ZTE.
Telstra currently offers 4G mobile devices from several major handset manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung for its own 4G network, but Optus has not yet confirmed any 4G handsets for its own network. It plans to reveal its initial 4G handset line-up at a broader consumer 4G launch to be held shortly.
Optus’ rollout revelation marks a faster than expected 4G rollout for Optus. In late May, Telstra — the only other carrier to have deployed 4G services in Australia, with Vodafone not having rolled out its own 4G infrastructure yet — revealed it had switched on its 1000th 4G site. Optus’ own rollout has been less high-profile than Telstra’s, but also now boasts significant 4G coverage in many of Australia’s capital cities. It will hit more than 600 sites by the end of August.
Optus is using the FD-LTE standard for its current 4G network, but is also planning to roll out a concurrent TD-LTE network alongside it. In a live trial demonstration to media last week, the TD-LTE service delivered “peak site throughput capacity of over 200Mbps and a consistent per user range of speeds between 25Mbps and 87Mbps”, according to Optus significantly outperforming the company’s current 4G network in a side by side trial. Optus’ current 4G infrastructure is capable of peak speeds up to 60Mbps, although testing accounts currently vary as to how consistent the experience is. Most tests have shown Telstra’s 4G network capable of speeds up to around 35Mbps.
Reselling 4G services through companies such as iiNet, Internode, Boost, Amaysim and Virgin may allow Optus to rapidly ramp up the number of customers using its infrastructure. However, even with this number of resellers using its infrastructure, it may prove hard for Optus to catch up to Telstra in terms of pure customer numbers, with Telstra already known to have some 200,000 4G connections signed up and analyst firm Morgan Stanley reportedly believing the company will shortly announce it has half a million 4G subscribers already. It is believed that Telstra does not provide wholesale access to its 4G network, although it has started allowing wholesale access to its 3G network.
Launching 4G mobile services may also give companies such as Internode a boost compared with one long-term rival. Ailing mobile telco Vodafone – which has yet to launch any 4G services in Australia and is still upgrading its existing 3G network – is believed to be planning to launch fixed broadband services locally over the National Broadband Network eventually, allowing it to offer a bundle of fixed and mobile telephony and broadband services to customers – as companies such as Telstra, Optus and others already do.
I’d love to see Internode and iiNet launch a series of big fat 4G plans through Optus with huge quotas and a bigger bundling discount for those who use both fixed and mobile broadband services through them. Doing so might finally kickstart the fairly anaemic reseller market for mobile services in Australia. Currently, most Australians buy mobile services directly from one of the big three mobile companies – Telstra, Optus or Vodafone. But there’s still room for innovation in this area, and I’d like to see some of it coming from a company like iiNet/Internode which has been so innovative in the fixed area.