news Vodafone has revealed it will start rolling out 4G speeds to its national mobile network from 2013 in a belated effort to catch up to its rivals Telstra and Optus, who will have started their own national 4G rollouts 18 months and almost a year previously at that stage.
Telstra currently has an extensive lead over both Optus and Vodafone when it comes to the deployment and customer uptake of the next generation of mobile infrastructure, known as 4G for fourth generation, as compared to the current 3G networks all three have deployed. After first switching on its 4G network in September last year, Telstra recently announced it had rolled out some 1,000 4G base stations around the nation, and had some 300,000 devices connected to the network already.
In comparison, Optus has only launched its own 4G network in the Newcastle. However, over the past week Optus has confirmed its 4G rollout will take place across a number of Australian capital cities over the next several months, with the telco additionally claiming its own fledgling 4G infrastructure will be the “highest capacity” and “best-performing” mobile network in Australia when it is completed.
For its own part, Vodafone has been relatively quiet about its own 4G plans. The company has previously confirmed plans to follow Telstra and Optus in providing 4G speeds in Australia, but has not yet even deployed the substantial upgrades to its network which will allow it to provide what is known as ‘dual-carrier’ speeds on the HSPA+ standard (DC-HSPA+), which Telstra has had in its network for some time.
However, all that is slated to change, according to a memo Vodafone’s head office circulated amongst its retail and sales teams this morning.
In the memo, Vodafone noted that its current average download speed across its network was 1Mbps. However, the telco told its staff, from September it would start upgrading its 3G network to support DC-HSPA+, which supports speeds of between 1Mbps and 16Mbps, with an average download speed of 8Mbps. The new DC-HSPA+ areas of its network, which will be branded “3G+”, will be rolled out in “selected metropolitan areas of Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle, Melbourne (including Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula), Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth. It will then continue on a “progressive basis” to other parts of Australia.
The DC-HSPA+ portions of Vodafone’s network will be deployed across all of its existing frequencies — 850MHz, 900MHz and 2100MHz, but customers will need to be using a compatible device to take advantage of the increased speeds. Telstra deployed DC-HDPA+ in January 2010, while Optus is believed to have begun rolling out the increased speeds from mid-2011.
And Vodafone’s 4G rollout is also under way, the telco told its staff. “In 2013, we will begin to rollout our new 4G network to deliver even faster download speeds of up to 15x faster than our current 3G download speeds,” the company wrote in its memo.
If this statement is consistent with the rest of the memo, it appears that the company is implying that its 4G network will be capable of average download speeds of about 15Mbps.
When the telco announced its Newcastle 4G rollout, Optus was believed to have been seeing download speeds up to 50Mbps on the 4G network, with upload speeds up to 20Mbps. Last week it said the network was capable of typical download speeds ranging from 25Mbps to 87Mbps. Telstra says its own 4G network is capable of download speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, and upload spees between 1Mbps to 10Mbps. However, recent real-world tests using HTC’s 4G One XL handset on the network in Sydney have shown speeds of around 35Mbps down and up between 15Mbps and 25Mbps.
Vodafone’s memo released this morning reveals the company is quite likely 18 months or more behind Telstra when it comes to the deployment of 4G technology, and a year behind Optus. It also reveals that it is a stunning two and a half years behind Telstra when it comes to the deployment of DC-HSPA+, and likely more than a year behind Optus in this area.
To put this into context, Vodafone wrote in its memo to staff this morning that the average download speed of its 3G network was 1Mbps.
I’m heading into the Sydney central business district this afternoon. When I do so, I’ll take my HTC One XL with me, on which I’ve regularly been getting download speeds of 35Mbps, sometimes as low as 25Mbps. So right now, if you have the right equipment in the right area, you can get download speeds through Telstra 35 times as fast as you can through Vodafone, or perhaps only 17 or 8 times as fast, if you accept that Vodafone’s network might run faster than 1Mbps if you’re in the right area.
I know I have been harping on about this quite a lot recently, but there is a great deal of evidence right now that competition in Australia’s mobile telecommunications market is dying. The memo issued to its staff this week illustrates that Vodafone is unlikely ever to be able to provide anywhere near to a comparable mobile service to Telstra; and it’s also going to continue to be a long way behind Optus.
I know that there is a renewed spirit of optimism within Vodafone at the moment, with the company continuing to invest in its network under new management. We are gradually seeing a new Vodafone emerge from the wreckage of the old, and I still do have some optimism about the future of the company. Not all consumers care about really fast mobile download speeds; some merely want acceptable browsing speeds for a decent price, and Vodafone’s network is rapidly (and I mean very rapidly) improving in this direction. There a lot of unsung heroes amongst Vodafone’s staff ranks who have poured their heart into keeping this company afloat, and I want to pay tribute to their efforts and acknowledge that the term ‘Vodafail’ has become increasingly irrelevant over the past few months as the company’s network quality has come ahead in leaps and bounds.
However, I do continue to wonder what Australia’s mobile telecommunications landscape will look like in half a decade or so. The future of our third player is still very much up in the air; as this morning’s information release demonstrates. If Australian mobile consumers go the way I think they will go, and continue to demand ever greater levels of network performance from their telcos, a day may come when the current bleed of customers away from Vodafone turns into a huge gush.