Telstra's growing 4G appetite

Telstra has flexed its 4G muscles to remind Optus and Vodafone who rules the roost and the telco intends to extend its lead in the space with the promise of LTE advanced.

With Optus and Vodafone spruiking their 4G ambitions in the last couple of weeks, it was only a matter of time before Telstra stepped in to remind the market who’s on top in the local 4G space and how it intends to stay at the top.

Telstra enjoys a substantial head start over its rivals but it is evidently keen to extend its lead with reported plans to push into ultra-fast “LTE advanced” technology.

The telco’s executive director of network and access technologies Mike Wright has told the Australian Financial Review that the Telstra is looking to operate advanced LTE services on spectrum held in the 900 megahertz and 1800 MHz bands.

What Wright is alluding to is the fact that Telstra is finally having a look at delivering 4G services in the truest sense of the word.

Telstra’s existing services do carry the 4G moniker but aren’t exactly the real deal. The segment is in fact currently dominated by advanced 3G technology – LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) systems. These systems are recognised as 4G, under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), but things are changing.

Earlier this year, the ITU laid down the standards for a true fourth-generation of advanced international mobile telecommunications systems (known as IMT-Advanced), which includes technologies like LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced.

So what’s so special about LTE advanced? Well according to one ITU official, we are looking at the possibility of our smart phones working a 100 times faster.

While the telco space is often fertile ground for such hyperbole, IMT-Advanced technology offers the promise radio-frequency spectrum used far more efficiently, making higher data transfers possible on lesser bandwidth. The real clincher here is capacity not speed and should allow the mobile networks of the telcos to cope with the expected increase in data traffic.

Wright has told the AFR that Telstra is keeping a close eye on the growth of LTE in South Korea.

“I have just visited South Korea and they have had huge growth in LTE there in the same frequencies we use. If we can get some alignment, to take advantage of emerging trends, we would consider it,” he told the paper.

Telstra is set to upgrade its 7500 cell sites and base stations over the next 12 months but any commercial LTE advanced services will take some time to become a reality in Australia. The impending ‘Digital Dividend’ auction in April next year will be a key plank in the 4G future of the country and Telstra will no doubt be front and centre in the space.

It will need to be because Optus has some formidable 4G plans of its own, especially now that the vividwireless acquisition is complete. Optus says that its 4G network, which is currently being rolled out, will be able to offer speeds of up to 87 megabits per second, more than twice as fast as Telstra’s.

And speaking of speeds, the LTE advanced technology theoretically offers speeds that will easily outgun the NBN. However, the sheer cost and the timeframe of developing a LTE advanced network, coupled with the issue providing a consistent product means that it is unlikely to dethrone the NBN as the principal source meeting our future broadband needs. 

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