news Just 24 hours after arch-rival Optus announced a significant expansion of its 4G network, Telstra has fired back, noting that it had recently turned on its 1500th 4 base station, as its billion-dollar expansion of its 4G network continues to be felt around Australia.
Yesterday Optus held a significant event to reveal that it would shortly kick off a trial of the TD-LTE brand of 4G mobile broadband coverage in Canberra, in addition to re-affirming its commitment to roll out 4G mobile broadband around Australia. The SingTel subsidiary plans to extend its 4G network to cover 70 percent of the Australian population by mid-2014. The telco also revealed last week that it had some 785,000 4G handsets on its network as at the end of March.
However, in a media release issued this morning, Telstra fired back at its competitor, noting it had turned on its 1500th 4G base station. The telco’s executive director of Networks, Mike Wright, had previously said in August 2012 that Telstra was planning to deploy 4G coverage to some 2,000 base stations by mid-2012. In this morning’s statement, Wright reassured customers Telstra was on track to meet the goal.
“The program is now running at pace and is on target – our technicians are now installing literally dozens of 4G base stations each and every week,” Wright said. “It’s great to mark the 1500th milestone but we’ve committed to installing over 2000 base stations by the end of this financial year and we’ll keep working to meet this target.”
Mr Wright said Telstra’s 4G network roll out program had extended coverage from 40 percent of the Australian population at the beginning of this calendar year to what is planned to be 66 per cent by the end of next month — a similar target to Optus’ mid-2014 targets. Telstra’s coverage is in all capital cities, and also over 100 regional and suburban locations.
Wright said the rate of customer uptake had been just as impressive. “We now have over 2.1 million services connected to our 4G network and as the network grows we obviously expect that number to grow with it,” Wright said. “This network expansion involves a significant amount of complexity across our engineering teams and industry partners and is a great reflection on our capability which has delivered a new milestone every 12 months for the past 3 years,” Mr Wright said.
Telstra activated its first 4G site in Australia, as the first telco to do so locally, and activated its 1000th 4G site in May 2012. “These network expansions are bringing the best the world has to offer in terms of advanced wireless technology to more Australians in more places,” Wright said.
However, Telstra’s 4G rollout has been significantly slower than the deployment of its previous 3G network, known as ‘Next G’. Under the leadership of then-chief executive Sol Trujillo, the telco pushed construction partner Ericsson very hard to get the network built between November 2005 and September 2006. The build allowed Telstra to leapfrog its competitors, and Next G remains the most extensive mobile network in Australia.
In comparison, the deployment of Telstra’s 4G network has been relatively slower, taking several years to cover a significant proportion of the population. With the rollout, Telstra has focused on metropolitan areas where the significant amount of early adopter users has meant it has been able to take pressure off its existing 3G infrastructure.
For its own part, Optus appears to have placed more emphasis on speed in its 4G rollout. In August 2012 the telco revealed that it had already upgraded some 500 mobile phone towers around Australia to support 4G, with the telco appearing to aim at rapidly catching up to Telstra’s 4G rollout. The nation’s third major carrier, Vodafone, revealed last month that it would launch its 4G network in June this year in Australia’s capital cities. The telco has promised that the long-delayed network will deliver Australia’s fastest 4G speeds so far due to initial claimed spectrum advantages over Telstra and Optus.
Is it just a coincidence that, one day after Optus makes a significant series of announcements around 4G, Telstra comes out with its own announcement about hitting its 1500th 4G base station? No. Telstra has recently demonstrated a pattern of such announcements. Come hell or high water, you can bet that if Optus makes a significant mobile network announcement, especially if it’s around 4G, the next day, Telstra will have its own network announcement to make to one-up its rival.
Personally, I would lay money on the fact that Telstra switched on its 1500th base station some time ago, and has had today’s press release in the can waiting for Optus to make a statement on the issue. You can see this if you take a closer look at the timing.
In August last year, Telstra announced that it would double its 4G coverage by mid-2013, rolling out an additional 1,000 base stations. If you believe the telco’s announcement this morning, it has taken the telco almost 11 months to hit the 500 towers mark, with the remaining 500 taking a month or so. However, I don’t believe that Telstra just hit the 1500 tower mark. What I believe is that Telstra likes to make a habit of keeping significant rollout marks like this on ice until it needs to one-up Optus with them. And who can blame it? After all, it’s Optus which is playing catch-up to Telstra right now on 4G, with Vodafone several years behind.
Image credit: Telstra