Optus launches 4G+ carrier aggregation with FDD, TDD

Optus is combining its FDD and TDD bands to offer improved 4G speeds for customers with compatible Category 9 devices.

Optus has combined one frequency-division duplex (FDD) and two time-division duplex (TDD) 4G LTE spectrum bands in Newcastle to offer significantly higher-speed mobile data downloads that have so far reached 317Mbps.

The carrier aggregation, announced late Friday afternoon, is already live in Newcastle suburbs Lambton, Mayfield, and Mayfield West, with plans to launch in Melbourne in early September, in the Sydney CBD in early 2016, and in Brisbane and Adelaide from mid-2016.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ and the Galaxy Note 5, launched last week, will be the first Category 9 devices commercially available in Australia. Once used across Optus' 4G+ carrier aggregation, the speeds will be faster than those attained on traditional 4G, with the telco achieving download speeds of 317Mbps on Friday during a trial in Newcastle.

"Aggregating 1x FDD and 2x TDD carriers on a commercial network with a commercial device is a world first for Optus. It is a more efficient use of our spectrum bands, and will provide a more consistent and better experience for our customers," said Dennis Wong, acting managing director of Optus Networks.

"We are working with global standards bodies and global vendors to continue our technology leadership by pushing the boundaries of LTE-Advanced and TDD-FDD convergence. With our metro spectrum assets, going from 3x CA to 4x CA and even 5x CA is possible in the future."

The news comes off the back of Optus last week announcing plans to shut down its 2G network from April 2017 to shift its customers onto the 3G and 4G networks.

"Greater smartphone usage and advances in 4G technology are driving customer preferences for more mobile data and faster speeds, and there has been a steady decline in 2G traffic and customers in the last few years," said Wong in early August.

The transition from traditional calling to the use of data marks a trend in the increasing popularity of communications apps including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, spurring Optus' entry to the market through a Wi-Fi calling app.

"I think you've seen us starting to move away from being very mobile focused to one that is about integrating communications and entertainment for customers, regardless of where they are," Optus CEO Allen Lew said in April.

Earlier on Friday, rival telecommunications carrier Telstra similarly announced that Samsung's new devices will work across the 700MHz, 1800MHz, and 2600MHz spectrum bands in use by the company to achieve download speeds of up to 450Mbps.

"Both Samsung devices will be 4GX (Cat 9) compatible, and are capable of the fastest 4G speeds in Australia in selected 4GX areas. They're primed to support our customers' ever-expanding love of apps, music streaming, and the growth in mobile video," Mike Wright, group managing director for Telstra Networks, wrote in a blog post on Friday.

Telstra added that it would release a Netgear Category 9 mobile broadband Wi-Fi device by the end of the year.

"The battery-powered mobile hotspot from Netgear can operate continuously for up to 11 hours, supports a data usage meter, and can share a 4G connection with up to 10 devices simultaneously, making it possible to enjoy the performance benefits of our up-rated network performance on existing Wi-Fi enabled tablets, laptops, and smartphones," Wright said.

Optus last week published its results for the quarter ending June 2015, reporting an increase in net profit of 19.5 percent, from AU$164 million last year to AU$196 million this year on revenues of AU2.3 billion, citing 4G mobile data uptake as its driving force.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) grew by 7.3 percent for the quarter, from AU$597 million in the three months to June last year, to AU$641 million this year.

Optus also noted that its current national 4G network covers 90 percent of the population.

"Since the beginning of 2015, we have switched on 700MHz spectrum at 2,400 metropolitan and regional sites," Lew said.

"Over the coming year, Optus will continue this important investment program so that more Australians can have access to reliable, super-fast 4G mobile services in more places."

Telstra also reported its results (PDF) last week, recording a net profit after tax of AU$4.29 billion for the 2014-15 financial year, down AU$260 million from last year's AU$4.55 billion. EBITDA decreased by 3.5 percent, down from AU$11.1 billion to AU$10.7 billion.

At the end of last month, Vodafone Australia reported a net loss of AU$183.6 million for the first half of 2015, up 13.3 percent from the AU$158.6 million loss in the same period last year. The company reported total revenue of AU$1.77 billion, a year-on-year increase of 2.9 percent.

Last month, iiNet shareholders approved TPG's AU$1.5 billion takeover bid. The acquisition, which is yet to be approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the court, will result in TPG overtaking Optus to become Australia's second-largest fixed-line telco.

The ACCC's examination of the deal in regards to concerns about competition is continuing, with the consumer watchdog's decision to be published on August 20.

"The proposed acquisition would combine two of the five largest suppliers of fixed broadband in Australia. The ACCC is exploring the extent to which the acquisition of iiNet will reduce competition by reducing the likely competitive tensions in respect of pricing, innovation, and service quality," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

Optus' parent company Singtel reported its results for the quarter as being a 12.8 percent rise in net profit, from SG$835 million to SG$942 million. EBITDA fell 1 percent year on year, down to SG$1.24 million due to a weak Australian dollar.

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