Telstra 4G network to reach 99 percent by mid-2017

The telco's 4G network will extend to provide coverage to 99 percent of the Australian population by June 2017, according to the CEO.

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn has committed to rolling out Telstra's 4G network to 99 percent of the Australian population by June 2017, with continuing deployment of its voice over LTE (VoLTE) capability and investment in its national network a priority.

According to the chief executive of Australia's incumbent telecommunications provider, the company will be investing AU$5 billion in its networks over the three years to June 2017.

"We will also start rapidly deploying the next generation of LTE technology, including voice over LTE, LTE Broadcast, and the next stage of LTE Advance, which is delivering peak network download speeds of up to 600Mbps," Penn said at Telstra's 2015 Australian Digital Summit in Sydney on Monday.

"By leveraging our superior spectrum holdings, we will create new levels of coverage and performance leadership for 4GX."

Telstra's 4G network currently provides coverage to 94 percent of the Australian population, while Vodafone's 4G mobile network covers 96 percent of the metro population and Optus' nationwide 4G network covers 90 percent of the total population.

Telstra began switching on parts of its 700MHz 4GX network in 2014, rolling out the network across Australia.

Last month, the company activated its VoLTE capability, saying it will provide high-definition voice and video calling, as well as faster call set-up times and fewer dropouts, for customers with compatible handsets to use in 4G areas.

"We will be progressively enabling the new 4G calling capability, voice over LTE for Telstra Mobile post-paid customers with a compatible mobile handset to use 4G calling," said Mike Wright, general MD of Telstra Networks.

"VoLTE is the next generation of how voice calls are carried over our network. In those 4G areas where VoLTE has been enabled, when customers make a voice call on a VoLTE-enabled handset, the call is integrated into the 4G LTE data stream rather than the previous arrangement of reverting back to 3G."

Telstra said it will be progressively enabling post-paid consumer devices for VoLTE, beginning with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+, and the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, soon to be followed by the new Sony smartphone. The telecommunications carrier will then turn to enabling VoLTE for enterprise and business customers, followed by prepaid consumers.

The telco also demonstrated its voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) capabilities, to which 4G devices on a VoLTE call can transition when in range of a Wi-Fi network.

Telstra confirmed in August that a 5G network will be launched by the end of the decade in collaboration with Ericsson. The network is expected to provide speeds of up to 10GB per second.

"[5G] addresses the world of an Internet of Things," Penn said at the time. "You can imagine a world in 2020, where almost anything that could be connected will be connected."

The Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) recently published its Annual Report 2014-15, revealing that Telstra has improved its complaints statistics. According to the report [PDF], complaints about Telstra to the TIO decreased by 4.3 percent, down to 55,529 for 2014-15.

Earlier this month, the telco also held onto the top spot in a mobile network benchmark survey published by testing services company P3 Communications and technology publication CommsDay, with the highest call quality and fastest data speeds overall.

Voice results saw Telstra with the fastest call set-up time in metro areas at 6.2 seconds, followed by Optus at 6.4 seconds, and Vodafone at 8 seconds.

In regards to data, peak downloads in metro areas averaged 46.4Mbps on the Telstra network, with Optus following on 38.3Mbps, and Vodafone on 31.7Mbps. For peak data uploads, however, Vodafone was first on 19.9Mbps, versus Telstra's 18.7Mbps, and Optus' 9.5Mbps.

Telstra has also been making moves into the media industry by launching its video-streaming device Telstra TV to provide home broadband customers with access to streaming services Netflix, Presto, and Stan; as well as catch-up services SBS on Demand, Plus7, and 9Jumpin.

Joe Pollard, who was recently promoted to the role of chief marketing officer and group executive of Media at Telstra, outlined plans to become a media company as well as a telco.

"The next wave of media ecosystem disruption is coming from telcos and media companies coming together," she said.

"They're beginning to integrate, be overtaken by each other, so what we are seeing is the need for world-class content with world-class distribution mechanisms -- ie, the power of a great network -- and scale to deliver the next wave of shareholder value. So what we're seeing around the world is telcos becoming media companies, and media companies becoming telcos."

Pollard argued that Telstra is in a unique position to offer media content services due to its high-speed, far-reaching network.

"One thing is absolutely clear: All of these services need to be delivered on a fast and reliable network."

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