Vodafone switches on 4G in regional Queensland

Vodafone is fulfilling its promise to bring 4G connectivity to regional Australia, switching on 4G in 235 sites across Queensland.

Vodafone Australia is continuing its bid to extend mobile coverage to areas outside of its metropolitan footprint, with the telecommunications carrier rolling out 4G to regional and metro Queensland.

In order to provide coverage throughout Queensland, Vodafone refarmed its 850MHz spectrum band to extend capacity, switching it on in 235 sites. The low spectrum band penetrates buildings more effectively than higher bands, working alongside the 4G provided through the 1800MHz spectrum band, the telco explained.

"L850 will offer a variety of potential improvements, including faster streaming speeds, greater network stability, and, for some customers, 4G access for the first time," Vodafone CTO Benoit Hanssen said.

Hanssen added that the widespread uptake of streaming services has led to data usage increasing in Queensland.

"Queensland mobile data consumption on the Vodafone network has increased by over 50 percent since December 2014, and we expect to see that trend continue with more customers now able to access 4G speeds," Hanssen said.

"The advent of streaming services combined with state-of-the-art smartphones with beautiful, big displays has changed the way Australians use their mobile devices and we want to accommodate this."

Vodafone 4G is now available for the first time in Rockhampton, Townsville, Airlie Beach, the Sunshine Coast, and more.

Vodafone Technology Governance and Strategy general manager Easwaren Siva on Tuesday said the telco would be refarming its 850MHz LTE spectrum in regional areas to improve coverage there, which he said would "take us to the mid-90s in terms of LTE population coverage".

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

Siva also revealed that Vodafone has just refarmed its 2,100MHz spectrum to active 4G LTE services in the Cairns area.

"We've just activated 2,100 LTE in the Cairns area, and that actually sets off a new chain of events of refarming exercise to facilitate three-carrier aggregation sometime next year. We're doing it in a progressive, very structured way," he said, speaking at CommsDay Unwired on Tuesday.

Vodafone Australia CEO Inaki Berroeta in October flagged regional expansion plans to bring competition across all areas of the nation in an effort to improve choice and therefore pricing for those living in remote areas.

According to the chief executive, Vodafone plans to have its entire network 4G-enabled by Q1 2016. He also detailed Vodafone's involvement in the government's mobile blackspots program, which aims to expand Australia's mobile networks to improve regional and remote coverage.

"The mobile blackspot program is a great step forward towards giving customers in regional areas better coverage, and often, for the first time, the opportunity to choose a mobile provider. Choice results in better and lower prices, which means improved productivity for farmers and businesses," he said.

"On the mobile blackspot program ... we've been increasing our network in New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia, and also Victoria. I think one of the biggest areas of potential of this program is the requirement for winning bidders to look at co-investing in mobile towers and shared transmission links with other mobile network operators. Sharing of infrastructure simply makes sense. It helps operators to save costs, and helps consumers by extending coverage and competition."

Berroeta warned that without competition in regional areas, Australia will be left behind by the global digital revolution.

"Mobile technology has a big part to play in building a productive and truly national digital economy. By optimising the use of next-generation mobility, we can leverage Australia's strengths in industries such as agriculture, education, transport, healthcare, and tourism," Berroeta said.

"It is well understood that telecommunications is a critical area of the economy. It can drive jobs, innovation, and productivity, but a lack of competition and innovation in the sector will hold the economy back.

"Currently, in Australia, we have two classes of mobile customers: Those with access to coverage and choice of provider in metropolitan areas, and those without in many regional and rural areas.

"The cost of lack of competition in the telco market across Australia is AU$3.1 billion each year. That's AU$3.1 billion which could be driving growth, but instead, it's threatening the government's worthy aspirations of a world-leading digital economy."

Vodafone recently signed a AU$900 million, 15-year dark fibre deal with Australia's number three fixed-line operator, TPG, which will see TPG build out an extra 4,000km of fibre to connect Vodafone's cell towers across Australia by mid-2018 in an effort to reach more customers.

Siva pointed towards this dark fibre as being a building block towards a 5G network, so that the capacity is ready before the network switch-on in 2020.

"Within the mindset of looking at 5G, there are three elements: Really high bandwidth, critical services, and mass machine-type services with billions of connections around," Siva said.

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