news National broadband provider iiNet this morning announced it had signed a deal with Optus to start reselling access to the SingTel subsidiary’s 4G mobile broadband network, with services to start “in the coming months”.
Optus several weeks ago opened its new 4G network to consumers in Sydney, Perth and Newcastle, with Melbourne launching late last week. The company has some 600 4G towers located around Australia, and has also started selling 4G mobile broadband USB dongles and prepaid devices, along with a popular 4G version of Samsung’s Galaxy S III handset. The network allows theoretical speeds up to 60Mbps, but testing has shown in practice it usually delivers download speeds similar to ADSL2+ broadband, with very good latency.
In a statement issued this morning, iiNet said it had become the first reseller of Optus’ 4G services, in a move which will allow the ISP to offer 4G wireless broadband services to iiNet, Westnet, Netspace and Internode customers. The “landmark deal” enables iiNet to offer services through the Optus 4G FD-LTE network and will dramatically improve the iiNet customer experience of using mobile broadband, iiNet said. “It makes sense for us to introduce one of the fastest wireless broadband services available and it supports our growth strategy to offer more to each of our customers,” said Michael Malone, iiNet chief executive officer.
iiNet will launch its 4G wireless broadband services to customers with a choice of iiNet-branded devices, including a 4G wireless USB modem and a mobile WiFi hotspot which allows as many as 10 devices to share the 4G service.
“Choosing an iiNet 4G device operating on the Optus 4G network unleashes the desktop for people on the move, with faster mobile access to online files and services. It’s a substantial improvement in speeds from what is currently available on 3G,” Malone said. iiNet will announce product details and service availability “within the coming months”, once Optus has confirmed the launch date of its wholesale 4G service, which will occur initially in selected areas of Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and Perth.
Internode founder Simon Hackett signalled that this kind of announcement may be forthcoming in comments made in Whirlpool in early August. 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 recently 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.
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. 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 iiNet 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.
The comments I wrote in early August with respect to this issue still stand:
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.