Optus to launch TD-LTE 4G network in Canberra

Optus plans to launch a new LTE network in Canberra, but it's noticeably different to the 4G network across the rest of Australia.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Optus will launch a time-division duplex long-term evolution (TD-LTE) network in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in March or April 2013, but it will have to be marketed very differently to the rest of the company's 4G network.

In February 2013, Optus will close down the Unwired network that it picked up as a result of its AU$230 million acquisition of Vividwireless in February this year. In doing so, it will free up 98MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz spectrum band for the deployment of a TD-LTE network that will ultimately complement the frequency division duplex LTE (FD-LTE) network in the 1800MHz spectrum.

Optus' managing director of networks Günther Ottendorfer announced this morning that Optus will launch its first TD-LTE network in Canberra in March or April next year.

FD-LTE separates spectrum into blocks, with one dedicated for uplink and one dedicated for downlink. TD-LTE has a single block of spectrum, but the uploads and downloads are split up by time. FD-LTE works best in lower bands of spectrum, while TD-LTE works better in higher spectrum bands. TD-LTE is the technology that NBN Co has used for its fixed-wireless network.

Unlike the rest of Australia, however, the capital's network will not be an 1800MHz 4G network, as Optus lacks spectrum in that band in Canberra. ZDNet understands that much of the spectrum in the ACT is held by the Department of Defence, although Telstra has launched its own 4G network in Canberra in the 1800MHz spectrum band.

The lack of an 1800MHz 4G network in Australia's capital will offer some challenges to Optus when it launches the 2.3GHz 4G network, as many of the 4G devices in the market, such as the iPhone 5, will not be compatible with the new network, and customers outside of 1800MHz areas will be left on 3G in Canberra.

It is unclear at this stage whether the new network in Canberra will be marketed differently to the rest of Optus' 4G network to avoid customer confusion, and ultimately scrutiny from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which already won an AU$2.25 million dollar fine from Apple for launching a 4G iPad in Australia that didn't work on Australian 4G networks.

Ottendorfer said he hopes that by the time the network launches, there will be more multi-band, multi-mode devices that can operate across a number of different types of LTE networks.

"Then it would be very easy to explain, because the customer doesn't need to care, but it could be not really there," he said. "I think we have a good chance in the first and second quarter of next year that we will have multi-mode devices."

The company also plans to launch 4G in Adelaide in the first half of 2013, to add to the existing sites in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Newcastle.

In Brisbane, Optus plans to increase its 4G coverage from 50 sites to 100 by the end of 2013, and will extend the coverage to other parts of metropolitan Queensland, along with Wollongong on the New South Wales south coast, in the next year.

In addition to 4G upgrades, Optus has also upgraded more than 3,000 sites for dual-channel HSDPA or "3GPlus" since 2011.

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