The nation's number two telco Optus has pledged to upgrade the data speed of its entire third-generation (3G) national mobile network by the end of May 2007.
The upgrade will be completed using the High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) standard which Optus's rivals Telstra and Hutchison (which operates the "3" brand) have already adopted for their own networks. Vodafone, which shares Optus's network, is also on the same path.
"The upgrade is well underway, with many sites already completed; over six hundred sites in Sydney and Melbourne to be ready for service by May 2007; and all Optus 3G sites across Australia upgraded to HSDPA by the end of May 2007," the SingTel subsidiary said in a statement issued today.
Optus said its HSDPA coverage would extend to 55 percent of the Australian population, with plans to boost that reach to 96 percent over the next three years from June 2007.
The upgrade will allow Optus customers to experience download speeds averaging 500Kbps to 1.5Mbps, with a theoretical maximum of 3.6Mbps. The existing system only allows speeds of up to 384Kbps. Optus is eventually planning to boost the theoretical speed to 14.4Mbps.
However, Optus's rollout will see the telco come late to the HSDPA party.
Telstra's nationwide Next G network already offers the 14.4Mbps theoretical speeds, and has a much larger coverage area -- extending far outside Australia's capital cities. Hutchison is already offering the theoretical 3.6Mbps speeds in metropolitan areas.
Although Vodafone shares Optus's network, the carrier is also ahead of Optus, having already launched the 3.6Mbps theoretical speeds in inner metro areas of Sydney and Melbourne, in addition to the two cities' international airports.
Optus is offering three HSDPA-capable mobile phones: the Motorola V3xx, Dopod 838 and Dopod 810 models. It is offering HSDPA-compatible PCMCIA and USB data cards for mobile broadband access.
Optus rivals Hutchison and Vodafone both slashed the cost of their mobile broadband plans this week.
For example, Hutchison launched three mobile broadband plans at AU$20, AU$30 and AU$40 per month, offering respective download limits of 500MB, 1GB and 2GB. It also launched a new flat-rate suite of services known as X-Series, which bundles mobile broadband with applications such as Skype, eBay and instant messaging.
In response, Vodafone today launched a range of new plans offering greater mobile broadband value -- for example, offering a new 2GB per month plan at AU$79.95 on a one or two year contract, and cutting its 1GB plan from AU$99.95 down to AU$59.95 a month for customers on a contract.
Vodafone offers significant discounts on both monthly and up-front costs to customers who sign up on a two-year plan.
For a limited time (2 May to 1 June this year), Optus is offering reduced prices on its USB modem for mobile broadband, down from AU$239 to AU$99 for customers on a 24 month contract. It is also offering a trial of free national video calls and other services for two months until 30 June.