With Optus' "April" 4G launch deadline getting closer by the day, Telstra has announced that it has expanded its roll-out in Newcastle — the very location where Optus will begin its own 4G service.
It was with much fanfare that Optus announced in September last year that it would become Australia's second telecommunications provider to launch long-term evolution (LTE) or "4G" services in Australia, starting on the Central Coast in Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens in April 2012.
But with less a week left of April, Optus has yet to announce whether the launch is set to happen before next Tuesday. Optus had not responded to questions from ZDNet Australia at the time of writing.
Telstra, having already rolled out its 4G network to over 100 regional locations and the major capital cities of Australia, had announced plans to expand coverage in Newcastle this week, bringing the 4G service to Broadmeadow, Callaghan, Georgetown, Jesmond, Kotara East, Lambton, Mayfield, Mayfield West, Waratah and Waratah West.
Telstra's area general manager Chris Cusack said that the expansion will be completed later this year, and will more than double 4G coverage in the Newcastle area.
With its regional location, mixture of suburban and city locations and decent population sizes, Newcastle is seen as a good test bed for new mobile network technologies, because it will provide a good mix of what sort of conditions telcos can expect across the rest of Australia.
The news comes as technology research company Telsyte released research that said that by 2016, there will be 7 million devices in Australia using LTE technology, with a total penetration rate of 19 per cent.
Analyst Alvin Lee said that the uptake would mainly be driven by mobile broadband devices rather than smartphones and tablets over the next 12 to 18 months. He also said that LTE network incompatibility, where the device doesn't work on the 1800MHz spectrum band in Australia, such as with the new iPad, will be one limitation to adoption.
"LTE adoption is likely to be driven mainly by mobile broadband devices in the next 12 to 18 months, due to the limited options in smartphones and tablets. The latest iPad, and the forthcoming iPhone, are unlikely to be able to connect to any of the Australia's LTE networks."
Lee said that this would be resolved once the digital dividend auction for the 700MHz and 2.5GHz spectrum bands is held at the end of the year.
"The auction ... will also affect the future of LTE in Australia, given that 700MHz will likely be the common LTE band globally and offers better propagation," he said.
But Lee noted that if carriers aren't able to access the 700MHz spectrum until 2015, this could also slow uptake of LTE. Earlier this month, Optus urged the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to announce the definite date for the spectrum auction, and whether the ACMA will make spectrum available to the telcos prior to the 2015 launch in areas where analog television has already been switched off.