In CDMA hubbub, don't forget the broadband

In CDMA hubbub, don't forget the broadband

Summary: Last week, a family friend rang for some technical help. "Telstra sold me this wireless Internet service and they promised it would work both at my home and at my office," he said. Said home is in the Melbourne CBD, and said office is in Kyneton, a lovely town about an hour away from Melbourne.

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Last week, a family friend rang for some technical help. "Telstra sold me this wireless Internet service and they promised it would work both at my home and at my office," he said. Said home is in the Melbourne CBD, and said office is in Kyneton, a lovely town about an hour away from Melbourne.

Finding that most 3G mobile services hadn't quite blanketed the greater Kyneton area with ultra-fast bandwidth -- or any bandwidth at all -- he had gone to Telstra to see what they could do for him. He explained to them that he needed a good-speed Internet connection while at the Kyneton office, and they assured him that the carrier's Next G wireless network would do the trick.

Perhaps, it turns out, they were thinking of another Kyneton. Despite his best efforts, Next G has failed to deliver the promised service; the modem can sporadically detect the network, but only when he's standing on his head, on the roof, notebook strategically balanced on one foot and arms askew to improve reception. This, as you can imagine, is inherently risky for your average grandfather. And even then, he's still a long way from actually being able to check his e-mail.

I'm sure he's not alone. Next G has been the subject of relentless enthusiasm by cost-conscious Telstra executives, healthy scepticism by media observers and CDMA users and -- quietly expressed over coffee with Telstra technical types -- concerns that the company has just pushed this whole Next G thing too hard, too fast.

And that, for a network that will be the sole conduit for voice and broadband into many rural areas, just can't be the right way to go about things. Hence Stephen Conroy's decision this week not to let Telstra shut off its CDMA mobile network, which was a lifeline for rural residents introduced years ago to replace the analog network.

In putting on the handbrake, Conroy has reiterated that Australians' fear Next G will leave them high and dry without any mobile coverage at all (that is, until Optus and Vodafone start filling in their rural networks later this year).

Telstra will of course whinge to the skies about Conroy's decision, but such is the burden of being the sole operator in such a vast part of the country.

What I'd like to know, however, is why nobody is talking about Next G's broadband capabilities. Discussions of Next G coverage seem to focus exclusively on the network's ability to deliver phone calls, but Next G's role as a broadband network -- something Telstra has promoted heavily in advertisements lauding the network's high speed -- is far from a priority.

Given that Next G will inherit a near monopoly on rural voice and broadband services, it is important that coverage be not only strong enough to carry a voice signal, but also to allow decent-speed data connections.

Back in 2004, after all, Telstra's wireless state-of-the-art was CDMA 1xRTT, which delivered maximum data speeds of 144Kbps to mobile users wherever the CDMA network reached. Next G, like other 3G networks, boosts this by several times (although real-life throughput is usually much lower).

Will areas with marginal Next G coverage -- Kyneton or any of a thousand other places around the country -- enjoy similar data performance over Next G? Will Telstra be required to demonstrate adequate data performance just as it is being required to demonstrate CDMA equivalence before that network can be shut off?

If Senator Conroy really wants to improve service delivery to rural Australians, he should mandate that the network deliver a minimum data speed as well. It won't make him any friends at Telstra, of course -- not that he has many right now, given the recent legal odium directed at him and the government as Telstra's legal bulldogs take up with him the fight they started with Conroy's predecessor Helen Coonan over funding to the OPEL venture. Telstra is also airing grievances with the ACCC's long-awaited decision to fix the price of Unconditioned Local Loop Service and Line Sharing Service well below what Telstra wants.

American companies' penchant for suing each other is well-known, but Telstra's habit of litigating against the government must truly be reaching record levels. In true American style, perhaps someone should consider a customer class action if Telstra is found to be overpromising and under-delivering when it comes to Next G.

In the meantime, Telstra will eventually get its way and rural Australia will have to be happy with whatever service it can squeeze from Next G.

As for my friend in Kyneton, perhaps I should just refer him to the hotline that Telstra has set up for aggrieved Next G customers.

Telstra Country Wide group managing director, Geoff Booth, referred to the hotline's target audience as "the small number of customers experiencing genuine problems" and stated the possibility of physical coverage testing. But my friend's problem is simple: there's just no coverage. And, because his problem relates to a data service -- the speed of which has been a major selling point in Telstra's Next G marketing -- one wonders whether Telstra will even bother listening to his problems.

Rather than pushing complex legal cases that will ultimately fail and paying millions in legal fees, shouldn't Telstra just get on with the business of improving Next G's coverage? That includes data services as well as phone calls, Big T.

My broadband-starved friend in Kyneton, and hundreds of thousands more, are waiting.

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government AU, Mobility, Telcos, Telstra, NBN

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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Talkback

65 comments
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  • Internet 3G access

    Not enogh information - did they use an external antenna (which is available for 3G internet cards>??)
    did they explain where in Kyneton they were located to the sales person (its a big area - hills and dips - whicj affect coverage of any radio spectrum signal?
    do they live in a corrugated iron house - walls?? roof??
    lots of variables and not explained or canvassed by your veneer thin article. This is trhwe sort of reporting that fuels the debate instead of informing it.
    anonymous
  • caveat emptor

    Matt's comment above is perfectly valid - there ARE too many variables in the reception of phone signals. There ARE to many lies, deceits, spin-doctored half-truths, and very few TRUE facts.

    BUT ...

    My experience is that I (having done my homework and research) know much more than the average Telstra sales person who is struggling in all but the "Bling" side of the NextG service. They are in shops in towns where signal strength isn't usually a problem. They know how to change ringtones, take photos & mms them to friends etc, etc. Very few actually would KNOW about the variables Matt correctly referred to, let alone be bothered to ASK the customer for more details before making a recommendation.

    Therein lies the problem (pun intended). I am rapidly comming to the conclusion that Telstra is actually believing all the 'lies' their spin doctors have been pushing for quite a while now. How many people know that 98% of the Australian population (what Telstra actually claims) is nowhere near the same as 98% of Australia (what a vast majority of the average population actually think)? Same goes for data speeds - NO-ONE will ever get close to the maximum theoretical data download speeds now, let alone when all and sundry are using the system. (We recently experienced a constant 300kbps with a 3.6Mbps enabled phone = data speed throttled by Telstra?)

    It's no surprise to me that there are very smart people in rural areas who are either getting Telstra reps to bring a car load of phones, car kits, aerials out to their properties and having Telstra PROVE the phone they will buy WILL work as promised or getting a loan of phones and doing the testing themselves.

    I feel that's the moral of David Braue's report - let the buyer beware - don't trust anyone - particularly a sales person who is on a commission. Make Telstra PROVE their claims.

    Remember: "a verbal promise isn't worth the paper it's written on".
    anonymous
  • Maybe it's the users hardware?

    Recently, when catching the train from Bendigo to Melbourne (Kyneton is one of the towns on this route), a VLine ticket inspector offered the use of her Next G phone to a disgruntled passenger who couldn't get reception on the Optus network. The ticket inspector said that they used Next G because they had coverage for the whole route, which can be from Melbourne to Swan Hill or Echuca.

    Matt raises a number of good points, there are many, many factors involved with wireless broadband and Telstra may be doing their best. I hate siding with them, but sorry, it's probably not their fault.
    anonymous
  • TELSTRA JUST SUCK!

    Try Point Cook, a suburb a mere 23kms from the CBD, it cant get ADSL in 50% of the suburb (no ports, rims etc), and wireless coverage is poor to none. If Telstra cant even get it right in a suburb of Melbourne, how is the country ever going to fare?
    anonymous
  • Broadband to who they want

    The reason why Stephen Conroy's report does not mention broadband is that it was never part of the AMPS network and for CDMA it was a added on extra essentially all they are required to do is provide coverage equivalency for voice

    When will people learn that Tetstra or any of the other carrier's provide broadband to whoever they want when ever they want its all about profits, its not like there is a USO covering broadband. Your lucky that half of point cook has ADSL, CDMA and Next G should be fine perhaps you have issues with GSM
    anonymous
  • Different kettle of fish

    Hi avid,

    Our original wireless broadband service was based on EVDO but its deployment was not unbiquitous across the CDMA network, so it is not comparable to the migration of customers from CDMA to NextG handsets.

    In fact EVDO was limited to the major cities and a handful of major regional centres. So there is no question the coverage is far superior with the Next G service. I should also add two other salient points:

    - All EVDO wireless broadband customers have been given a Next G card

    - We have a range of antennaes which boost the reception.

    My personal experience, staying on a property just over the Blue Mountains is that a 3dB gain antennae took me from no wireless coverage to 2.5Mbps. So people like your family friend should investigate an external antennae ASAP.
    anonymous
  • Sorry for the type

    Hi David,

    .....
    anonymous
  • Telstra Next G coverage superior

    Have you checked out Telstra's 3G coverage compared to that of Optus/Vodafone/3 ? While all Telstra's competitors only provide 3G coverage in the dense population areas, Telstra is providing coverage to large sections of the country. In fact Telstra 3G coverage has over 100 times the 3G coverage of their nearest competitor.
    According to the stats there are about 3800 CDMA bases and Next G has over 6000 bases, so is providing a lot more coverage than CDMA.
    If you can't get Telstra 3G coverage, I doubt you can get any other company providing 3G services to that area
    anonymous
  • As usual someone who wants to bag Telstra with no facts

    Will you stick to a subject.

    Can I expect you to go to the 777 plane crase story and start blaming Telstra soon?
    anonymous
  • WOW David and Jo Should Hook Up

    Between David and Jo's blatant anti Telstra attitude how could anyone take this site seriously anymore?

    The way this article is written appeard to be designed to place Telstra in the worst possible light, to a novice they may be stupid enough to believe your garbage but trying to push lines about Optus and Vodaphone exceeding the network coverage or 1xRTT being better then HSPA (D or U) is the ultimate indication you are less informed then the same Telstra shop workers you are attacking.
    anonymous
  • Fair?

    Article is pretty good at pointing out that where Telstra thinks it has coverage, they don't. I think that is what a majority of customers are annoyed at - they get told one thing and reality is another.

    If external antennae's are required then surely the customer should be prompted for these at point of sale given Telstra would make more profit out of the extra hardware sales?

    What a PR/engineering opportunity Telstra are wasting! If a customer complains they can't get reception then surely Telstra should be plotting this stuff on a map - here take this little GPS unit and a couple of handsets and tell us what's good/not - compare it to their plans and figure out which towers are underpowered etc!
    anonymous
  • Uninformed Telstra Rep Here

    In reply to Fair?; All new 7.2 bigpond devices are being sold with a 3db antenna boosting coverage. And antennas boosting the already existing stock have been available for quite some time now.

    There has also been a number of literature distributed to Telstra shops in regard to information about antenna gain. I feel this has higher penetration in regional stores than city stores, which I feel the most number of "uninformed" staff seem to originate.

    Most of this talk in the media degrading the Telstra service can be justified in some cases though for the most part it is just hype. I even saw a local newspaper showing a customer holding a phone searching for coverage. Underneath the caption read the customer was unable to get next g coverage, she was holding a CDMA phone. A bit physically impossible no?

    Returning to the broadband debate, why should Telstra be forced to have mandatory regulations put in place for minimum speeds? In simple economic terms, this will never insure affordable and available broadband. The only way is through competition, but it seems the competitors will never step up to this task, they are simply only turning their average GSM coverage to 3G not expanding as was mentioned in the article.
    anonymous
  • They are doing this

    When I bought my mobile phone I walked into a Telstra shop and mentioned I do a lot of rural driving and needed a good handset to replace my mext G phone, they offered me a phone that also had a suitable car kit. From April last year I have had 3 locations where I could not make calls, each time I logged a report on their web site and each time I got seceral e-mails confirming device, location and in two of these they took action to fix, on the third they said the area was not in a planned coverage area which was ok because it was in the middle of nowhere on a secondary road 40 or 50km from any other people and when I drove from another 10 minutes I got reception again. I see the reports of people complaining but do any of these people actually lodge a complaint through the correct channels? I have no complaints with the next g network and if anything my one handset performed much better then my old CDMA phone for voice and and data card for my laptop computer.
    anonymous
  • No Broadband in the burbs!

    If you have done some research Luke, you may find it interesting to note that the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, has one of the worst issues (more than some areas rural Victoria) in connecting to broadband, CDMA & Next G are also black-spots in those areas, thus many residents are stuck in the dark ages with no access to the internet! Dial up is no longer a viable method to connecting to the internet and its time Telstra started to realize this instead of using the tired old excuses. Its also time the NEW Government started doing something about what is a basic service of today's society in 2008! There is a USO for broadband, see the Governments site about the broadband guarantee http://www.dbcde.gov.au/communications_for_business/funding_programs__and__support/broadband_guarantee
    anonymous
  • Point Cook needs help now!

    good to see some other voices about Point Cook.

    See this thread for the amount of problems there

    http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=477262&p=-1#bottom
    anonymous
  • Next G

    The regionals have their problems with Next G but its not just confined to those remote areas.
    Living 900 metres from the Telstra Tower and from a major Sydney suburban station I cant get Next g 75-80% of the time. Callers are always getting out of range or turned off messages. CDMA was fine as are signals from other mobile cariers. But NExt G is just not up to scratch
    anonymous
  • Ahh..

    I see the NWAT propaganda posters are out again. Your post even manages to read like an advertisement.
    anonymous
  • Luke

    Thats not a USO, Telstra can't be bound by that unlike the fixed line USO so in this case no it doesnt really apply. It's more like a incentive (roll out broadband here and we will give you funding)
    anonymous
  • All will be well with Next G.

    Edward Higgins how refreshing to read your informative report and also to see you present your bonafides by the inclusion of your identity.

    As is always the case with the extension of world cutting edge technology ( thanks Senator Conroy) the Next G Network will experience some teething problems. It is to be expected.

    This problem will be rectified by Telstra, with the excellent guidance of Senator Conroy, and all with genuine reception problems should contact Telstra for resolution before the agreed date of the CDMA turnoff.
    anonymous
  • All I provided was factual network data...

    For your info, i'm an RF Design Engineer who likes to keep a close eye on how all mobile networks around the world are performing. So I am more than qualified to make my comments. And all you can provide is some unless anti-Telstra comment. I'm willing to obtain more data for you if you like to prove my comment that Telstra's 3G network is far better than any of their competitors in Australia. What data can you provide me to support you useless arguement?
    anonymous