4G race: Telstra turns on 1500th tower


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


  1. Poor little Vodafone. Who cares if they have double the spectrum of Telstra when they dont have a network.

      • Yes Michael. I know. i have been waiting very patiently. for the past 6 months.Actually more. Problem is they may have left it a bit late. Every day later is one less day for Telstra to go live with that 700mhz spectrum and for Vodafone to loose that 30mhz spectrum advantage.

        • A bit late? By what standards?

          I’m quite sure they would have loved to have turned it on ages ago, but if you’re going to do a job like that, you don’t rush it, and you do it properly.

          Given the low opinion many people have of them, I don’t blame them for taking their time.

          It’s like when people complain about the pace of the NBN rollout. You don’t wake up one day and decide to build it, and have it completed the next day.

          The best results take time.

          • Michael the market decides whats late. And today’s release of Vodafone’s customer numbers speak for themselves. I agree with the do it once do it right. The problem is when ur bleeding, you better act fast or you may run out of blood. I really hope vodafone’s can recover but fear that they may not. It will be a real shame if we get stuck with only 2 operators.

  2. So they achieved 75% of the target with a 1 year delay. Is this a a dramatic improvement to the norm?.

  3. Here in Ungarra we don,t have any towers , but we have one 25 km,s away with hills in front of it. and it also has got older next G services and it,s located at Pillaworta Hill

  4. I’m disappointed at the glacial pace of the roll-out. Its been about 18 months since Telstra launched their 4G ‘network’ and its still limited to the inner city area of the state capitals and regional centres. Suburban areas, even in capital cities, still haven’t got any 4G coverage.

    Perhaps the carriers are waiting on new spectrum or were waiting on the auction before embarking on a ‘serious’ roll-out.

  5. Sounds like if people want an NBN they ought to have demanded the job be given to a real business, one with a real customer-focussed culture, and where doing this now quickly and economically is encouraged and rewarded, not NBNCo where they all come from the “enterprise” end of town and as a result they’ve achieved only tens of thousands of connections in 4 years, and will take the best part of a decade to finish the job.

    • By a “real business” I mean one that can’t say “we don’t care how much it costs or how long it takes, and we can pay ourselves (those of us who run the place) however much we like no matter how poorly our organisation performs because we have no competition”. It isn’t just when the NBN is built there’ll be no competition, its in the building of it too.

      • Does a real business take a small ROi of ~7%? if they wan’t to stay in business no.

        Building any key piece of infrastrucutre takes time especailyl if we do want to have to rip it up and start again.

        It may remove competition from the physical side of things however it will improve competition at the retail level at where you pay for the service!

        I am all for the NBN whether it be liberal or labour that builds it as long as it is built to last a MINIMUM of 10 years and ideally 50-100Years before any significant replacement needs to be done.

        e.g. i would say for every BILLION spent that should equal a year. e.g. if the cost of the network costs 100 Bullion dollars to build then the network needs to have a life of 100 Years with upgrades over those 100 years. so in turn 100 billion becomes 1 billion per year.

        Do some maths.
        Take $100 billion divide it by 20 million people = $5000 divide by 100 years = $50 per year excludes obvious costs of finance etc etc. however this is just to show a point to anybody that thinks even if it costs $100 billion to build a fibre NBN it really is not that expensive to build.

    • Wait what, 10’s of thousands of connections in 4 years, vs 1500 connections in 1 year?

      I really don’t understand your comment.

      • Sorry I produced incorrect information.

        1000 connections since August 2012. Which is 1000 connections in 9 months. which would be 1300 per year.

    • I’d just like to add my own experience with Telstra deploying hardware has been one where they rused to deploy a million dollar system that hadn’t even passed basic acceptance testing.

      They have now removed all the unused hardware that never met the spec, and are in the process of actually testing its replacement before deployment.

    • Troll elsewhere, this article was not about the NBN or delivery of any sort of wired network, it was about the development of the 4G network in Australia. This is a sector with arguably decent competition on a national scale.

  6. I’ve heard that to create room in the towers, Telstra are removing 3G transmitters. This might account for the severe problems getting 3G data links in the capital cities!
    I was told, for example, at Falls Creek, Victoria, Telstra removed 3 out of the 4 3G transmitters in the rollout to 4G.

    • If this is a response to Graham, you missed the point of his comment.

      He didn’t say they were getting rid of 3G (spectrum wise).

      He said they were reducing the number of Transmitters. They still HAVE 3G transmitters, just less of them to allow space for the 4G transmitters.

      PS. I have no idea if his comment is accurate; just that yours appeared to mis-represent what he said.

  7. Renai,

    I’d take your money if I was the gambling type. Failing that, I’ll let you off with a request to be a bit more trusting. Telstra aren’t fibbing to you, they only just recently passed the 1500 mark. For various (internal & external) reasons, the 4G rollout has been experienced some delays over the last 9 months or so, but is now tracking to earlier forecasts.

    And yes, it has now been accelerated with a target of 2000 by the EOFY.

    Also – 700mhz spectrum only just got auctioned off – I don’t think any Telco’s are dragging the chain on that one. Earliest use of that is 2015 (give or take a bit) iirc.

    • and yet these delays have not been noticed by anyone and have not been reported if this was the NBN everyone would be having kittens right now.

      • yep – copper-coloured ones at that – with the mark of the devil (666mhz) on those pesky nbn kittens.

        apologies to the other Adam – I’ve changed my name so I don’t get confused what I post.

  8. sorry – 700mhz comment directed to DylanX – not to Renai (who I’m sure already knows that)

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