After comparing Telstra's 4G network to other so-called "4G" networks in the market, the genius in Telstra's brand new shiny network is in its 3G network.
A week or so prior to the consumer launch of Telstra's 4G long-term evolution (LTE) network, I was given a vividwireless ViViFi Wi-Fi hotspot to try out that company's "4G" network.
Vividwireless has deployed a WiMax network, which it is labelling as 4G, in every capital city across Australia except Darwin and Hobart utilising spectrum in the 2.5GHz spectrum band. The company estimates that customers should be able to get speeds of between 3.1 and 6.3 megabits per second (Mbps).
If they can actually connect to the service.
When I first switched on the device in my office in the Sydney CBD, I initially thought it hadn't been activated yet, as it didn't register any signal. Again when I trialled it in Newtown, no signal. Checking vividwireless' coverage maps, I determined that there must have been pockets of blackspots in the areas I was trialling so I tried an area that was blanketed — Circular Quay.
No coverage, once again. It was only by fluke that by trialling the device outside my balcony a few days later that — finally — I managed to get a faint signal.
Comparing this to when I first began testing out the Telstra 4G dongle, every area I've tested it in — save for the train tunnels in the Sydney City Circle — had 4G coverage. That 4G coverage was also well above the promised download speeds of vividwireless', ranging from between 8Mbps to 26Mbps.
But what sold it for me was that in those areas where LTE coverage wasn't available, the Telstra dongle flicks over to Telstra's Next G network. This means that no matter where I am in Australia, even if I can't get 4G, I should be able to connect to something.
Consumers and the industry can only benefit from strong competition in the mobile market. However, without any sort of fall-back position, I really fail to see how smaller telcos such as vividwireless can hope to compete.
The other two major telcos — Optus and Vodafone — are both in the process of performing upgrades and overhauls to their 3G networks not just to keep up with demand for 3G services but to also prepare for their existing networks to be the fall-back measure for their upcoming 4G networks.
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone do have a big head-start on companies like vividwireless in that they've got their networks up and running. But one potential option for the company might be to complement its own network with some wholesale 3G services from Telstra, Optus or Vodafone until such a time as its network is big enough to stand on its own.
In a time when consumers demand constant connectivity, those telcos unable to provide it will be left in the dust.