Telstra is not concerned about Apple's apparent reluctance to release a "4G" long-term evolution (LTE) iPhone 5 this year, stating that dongles are leading data usage on its network today.
The iPhone 5, expected to be announced next week, is tipped to be HSPA+ compatible, but not to support LTE. Apple has previously indicated that it is reluctant to adopt LTE technology into the flagship smartphone because of a lack of appropriate LTE chipsets. The Boy Genius also reported last month that Apple had been testing an LTE-compatible iPhone for a 2012 release. This means that an LTE iPhone in Australia could be a while off yet.
Telstra didn't seem to be overly concerned about this, despite the iPhone's popularity. Announcing the commercial launch of its LTE network to journalists yesterday, Telstra's executive director of mobile, Warwick Bray, would not be drawn on whether he believed Apple's LTE hesitations would impact on uptake of its brand new network, but did say that Telstra expected LTE benefits to be more pronounced for laptops than smartphones.
"The megabytes on our network [are] more coming from dongles than smartphones at the moment," he said.
Bray also said that it was consumers driving this laptop data usage more than enterprise customers. In pricing LTE plans at the same rate as its Next G mobile broadband plans, Bray said it was just as much about luring customers over to LTE to siphon capacity from Next G as it was about providing a faster service for Telstra's customers.
He would not predict whether smartphones would overtake dongles in terms of data usage in the near future, but said that Telstra's Next G network was still the best of the bunch for iPhone users.
"We've had 1.6 million customers come to us in the last year, and many of them are using Apple," he said "We're absolutely convinced that our 3G network is the best network for Apple customers and that's what they tell us as well."
Telstra's 3G network already has HSPA+ deployed. Optus is also upgrading its network with the same technology.
One potential roadblock for Telstra LTE may be its choice to use LTE in the 1800MHz spectrum band. In the United States, many mobile network operators are looking to use the 700MHz spectrum for LTE networks. While this may potentially limit the number of compatible devices for the telco, Telstra has been planning for this contingency, however, by creating its own 1800MHz spectrum global interest group at Mobile World Congress in February. This could see more device manufacturers develop LTE products that work in the 1800MHz spectrum band. Australian telcos plan to have LTE services in the 700MHz band too after the ACMA auctions off the spectrum in 2012, which is currently being used for analog television services.
Even if the 700MHz take-up takes longer than expected, the 1800MHz spectrum band could see many devices in the future due to an increasing number of bands in devices. Telstra's chief technology officer, Dr Hugh Bradlow, has previously said that future mobile devices may be equipped to work in up to 12 spectrum bands.
And perhaps other manufacturers will be keen to jump on Telsta's bandwagon as a point of difference. Telstra today announced that the HTC Holiday will be the first LTE-compatible smartphone to be on sale in Australia in the first half of 2012. The device will operate on the LTE for data in coverage areas, but will drop back to 3G in order to make phone calls.