Telstra has announced the launch of its gigabit-capable 4G mobile network in three capital cities throughout Australia, allowing users with compatible devices to attain speeds of up to 1Gbps amid promises that it will also upgrade its standard 4G network to 300Mbps speeds for 80 percent of its footprint by 2019.
Already available at certain sites across Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, Telstra said it would launch the 1Gbps network into Adelaide and Perth later this year, with more areas set to join in future.
"The gigabit network itself will be rolled out initially in the CBDs, and it will gradually expand from there, but that will occur over time," Telstra director of Wireless Engineering Channa Seneviratne announced at the Gigabit LTE event in Sydney on Tuesday.
"Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane already have got sites that are gigabit-capable, and this calendar year we will also introduce that to Perth and Adelaide."
Seneviratne added that Telstra will also upgrade its regular 4G network to enable faster speeds for much of its mobile footprint by 2019 using such network technologies as 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO), and carrier aggregation across spectrum bands.
"We certainly have an ambition to increase our standard LTE speeds up to 300Mbps by fiscal year '19 to 80 percent of the population," he said.
"We have this continued expansion of our 4G footprint, and also we will enable these advanced features so all our customers will enjoy faster speeds over time ... features like 256 QAM and 4x4 MIMO are features we've already deployed in a lot of areas: 80 percent of our sites have the ability to take advantage of that.
"It makes economic sense to do what we're doing -- spectrum is expensive, so techniques like 256QAM or 4x4 MIMO, they allow us to make maximum benefit and get much more efficiency out of those very expensive assets ... we've been driving the cost of a bit downwards."
Network upgrade partner Ericsson agreed that using 4x4 MIMO, 256 QAM, and carrier aggregation will ensure the companies remain ahead of the curve in rolling out a 5G network by 2020 in the most cost-effective way possible.
"The LTE journey ... we have been able to continuously improve on the initial [4G] deployments, so it's not completely new investments; they can invest in what they already have and build upon it, so it enables an incremental growth in the networks," said Ericsson head of Radio, Per Narvinger.
"Some of the steps we have been taking here with LTE ... it's a smoother journey towards 5G, and it's an economically healthy way of building a truly good user experience."
Emilio Romeo, CEO of Ericsson ANZ, added that working with these technologies on 4G will mean that they are experts in them by the time 5G is adopted.
"While the standards for 5G are still being established, it is exciting to know that it will include a more advanced evolution of the technologies that we're launching today -- namely, carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, 256 QAM -- meaning that ours and Telstra's engineers and our partners' engineers will get to know the technologies today, and it will be deployed and it will evolve into 5G tomorrow," Romeo said.
During its Gigabit LTE even on Tuesday, Telstra and Ericsson also launched a mobile router capable of 1Gbps download and 150Mbps upload speeds in partnership with Netgear and Qualcomm.
The Nighthawk M1 mobile hotspot makes use of higher-order 4x4 MIMO and four-band carrier aggregation of 60MHz of spectrum to support Category 16 LTE Advanced, and has an Ethernet port, two USB ports, and dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz dual concurrent Wi-Fi.
A live test of the mobile router on Tuesday morning saw it attain speeds of up to 895Mbps down/97.43Mbps up.
Back in October, Telstra and Netgear, in partnership with Ericsson and Qualcomm, announced a commercial 1Gbps-capable 4G network, after flagging last February that it would be teaming up with Ericsson to launch the world's first 1Gbps commercial network alongside the first commercially available 1Gbps-capable mobile broadband device with Netgear.
"We pride ourselves on our connectivity expertise, and we continue that tradition today by completing the first commercialisation of a gigabit-class LTE network and device," Telstra group managing director of Networks Mike Wright said at the time.
"With the world's first gigabit-class LTE network, we have substantially improved our network capacity and increased real-world LTE download speeds, while also gaining a distinct advantage over competitors as we can now offer an entirely new class of LTE service."
In September, Telstra, Ericsson, and Qualcomm attained download speeds of 979Mbps and upload speeds of 129Mbps during 4G network testing using carrier aggregation, 64 QAM uplink, 256 QAM downlink, and 4x4 MIMO technologies; Ericsson's Baseband 5216 hardware; Qualcomm's Snapdragon X16 LTE modem test device; and Telstra's live network.
The use of 4x4 MIMO increases peak rates twofold without needing additional spectrum, with QAM also increasing the peak data rates.
Telstra and Ericsson in 2015 aggregated five spectrum bands to attain 1Gbps 4G mobile speeds during live commercial mobile trials.
Last year, Telstra and Ericsson also achieved download speeds of between 18Gbps and 22Gbps during the first live trial of 5G in Australia, with the trials conducted in a real-world outdoor environment using Ericsson's 5G radio testbed.