news The nation’s largest telco Telstra has revealed it has tested its 4G mobile network at speeds of up to 90Mbps and will shortly introduce a smartphone and Wi-Fi dongle that can theoretically access the network at peak speeds even higher — up to 150Mbps — although the network is not yet capable of those speeds.
Real-world tests of Telstra’s 4G network have shown it is consistently capable of reaching speeds up to 40Mbps using current end user mobile devices such as smartphones and USB dongles, but in practice, especially in congested areas such as the central business districts of major cities, speeds are usually significantly lower and often comparable to ADSL2+ broadband speeds up to 24Mbps. Optus’ 4G network has been able to reach speeds of up to 60Mbps, although it usually performs similarly to Telstra’s network in real-world conditions.
However, in a new post on Telstra’s Exchange blog this afternoon, the company’s executive director of networks & access technologies Mike Wright said the network was theoretically capable of much more.
“This week we announced that Telstra continues to keep on top of the wireless technology curve and will launch two ‘Category 4’, or CAT4 devices, for use on our 4G network s later this year – a wi-fi dongle and a handset,” Wright wrote. “CAT 4 devices are rated as capable of 150Mbps peak device downlink speeds. This compares with the CAT3 devices which are rated at 100Mbps peak device downlink speeds.”
Wright said Telstra currently advised its customers that the typical download speed on its 4G network with a CAT3 device was between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, depending on a range of factors.
“In our laboratory testing for the new Cat4 devices, we have seen peak device speeds of well over 100Mbps,” he wrote. So far in live field trials in Perth and Esperance where we have 20MHz of contiguous spectrum, we’ve seen device speeds of over 90Mbps, however the speed a customer typically experiences will be across a broad range, due to the factors I explained above. Suffice to say though, the download speeds a customer experiences using a CAT4 device can be faster than those obtained using a CAT3 device, all other things being equal.”
Wright said for customers to take best advantage of a CAT4 device, that device needed to be combined with a 4G network with over 20MHz of contiguous spectrum — representing the widest bandwidth that LTE can use ahead of LTE-Advanced technologies which have not yet been implemented yet.
“In some areas of WA, including Perth and Esperance Telstra already has 20MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 1800MHz band so customers in these areas will be the first to be able to experience the speed advantage of a CAT4 device,” said Wright.
According to the executive, in many cases, customers wouldn’t actually see any difference in speeds on the mobile devices they were using. “In reality, as a customer your speed is more likely to be limited by the source of the data you are downloading, so in many cases you are not going to notice too much if you’re downloading at 20Mbps or 60Mbps,” said Wright. “High def video will still stream well on both speeds, websites will appear to load almost instantaneously.”
However, the executive said that the biggest advantage that faster speeds brought customers was extra capacity.
“Each generation of wireless technology is more efficient than the one that precedes it,” he wrote. “Much of the reason for this is that as wireless technologies are developed they are designed to deliver faster speeds. Now the faster you can deliver data, the more capacity you have on your network. To use an analogy, not only can vehicles move faster down a freeway, we are also adding more lanes to the freeway. The two combine to give a more consistent and satisfactory customer experience. Increased speed also increases capacity because it means that more of our customers can be on the network at one time, and each have the speeds to support what they are doing.”
The news comes as Telstra and Optus are in somewhat of an arms race with respect to the speed, coverage and devices available on their 4G network. Optus, for example, recently rapidly expanded its coverage in Brisbane and the Gold Coast and launched its 4G network in Adelaide. Tomorrow, the company’s Australian chief Paul O’Sullivan is expected to give updated figures on 4G take-up on the telco’s network at its regular financial briefing. However, in this race, Telstra is clearly out in front. The telco revealed last week that it already had 1.5 million 4G devices on its network — including some 500,000 iPhone 5 units sold in the second half of 2012.
Vodafone has not yet launched its 4G network in Australia, although it has pledged to do so this year.
Very nice, Mr Wright, very nice. We are very impressed with how Telstra keeps on pushing the technical boundaries on its 4G network :) Vodafone … you paying attention? Anyone still awake over there? Anyone? Oh, well.
Image credit: Telstra