Optus, Telstra secure early 4G 700MHz launch

The first commercial services for 4G in the 700MHz spectrum band are expected to be launched this week by both Optus and Telstra in Darwin, Perth, Fremantle, Mt Isa, Mildura, Griffith, and Esperance, following commercial licence grants by the ACMA.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Optus and Telstra have today announced that a number of 4G 700MHz sites will be been switched on this week ahead of the January 1 launch of the networks.

Optus today announced it would switch on 700MHz 4G in the CBDs of Darwin and Perth this week, while Telstra said it had 4G in six sites that were expected to come on using the spectrum band including Perth, Fremantle, Mt Isa, Mildura, Griffith and Esperance.

The 700MHz is set to come online in January 1, 2015, after the shut down of the analog television networks in Australia last year, and the restack of the spectrum band earlier this year.

Telstra, and Optus, which along with TPG paid close to AU$2 billion for spectrum at auction last year, have been trialing 4G on 700MHz for a number of months to ensure it is compatible with their networks, and have managed to secure early access licences at those locations from the Australian Communications and Media Authority today.

Optus' vice president of mobile networks, Andrew Smith, told ZDNet that the 4G will be switched on in Darwin and Perth on Wednesday, and that it marks the first availability for 4G in Darwin for Optus customers, where Optus doesn't have access to the 1800MHz band for 4G.

"In Perth this represents a deepening up of coverage of 4G in the CBD, but in Darwin, it actually represents a launch of 4G. So this is an exciting lift for Darwin," he said.

The lower frequency for 4G would also allow the network to reach further, and give customers better in-building coverage than on the 1800Mhz spectrum band.

"700MHz we've always said is good for regional Australia, or low density areas where it will go further," Smith said.

Telstra's group managing director of networks, Mike Wright, said that Telstra's 4G in the 700MHz band will be on around about the same time to between 20 and 25 towers across a number of regional locations in Australia.

He said in the company's tests there had been some "pretty spectacular speeds" achieved using the full 20MHz of spectrum Telstra has access to in the band, and with category six devices, Telstra will be able to combine both the 1800MHz 4G and 700MHz 4G services.

Currently only the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 handsets in Australia are capable of using the APAC 700MHz spectrum band, along with Telstra's Advance Pro X category six Wi-Fi hotspot, but Wright said he saw about five to six devices coming down the track.

Both Wright and Smith said they were looking to get access to other sites to launch the new 4G network earlier than the January 1 launch date, but said they were not letting it impact their 4G network upgrade schedules.

"Our plan is largely around building a logical and efficient rollout program of sites, noting we'll be getting full access in January. We're ramping up the build schedule so that come January we'll have a reasonable footprint to activate when we get access to the spectrum," Wright said.

"We're keen to get to the 1st of January where we do have wider access to the spectrum, but we're taking the opportunity where it exists, and where it is operationally practical to be able to access the spectrum early if we can," Smith said.

"We're working close with ACMA around what places may become open to us."

The commerical trials of the new 4G networks will also allow Telstra and Optus to detect what impact legacy wireless audio equipment has on the networks. The ACMA has said that owners of wireless audio equipment that operates in the 700MHz spectrum band will need to cease using the equipment at the end of 2014.

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