Vodafone Australia is continuing its bid to extend mobile coverage to areas outside of its metropolitan footprint, with the telecommunications carrier rolling out improved 4G to the Australian Capital Territory and regional New South Wales.
In order to provide consistent coverage throughout the ACT, Vodafone refarmed its 850MHz spectrum band to extend capacity, switching it on in 91 sites. The low spectrum band penetrates buildings more effectively than higher bands, working alongside the 4G provided through the 1800MHz spectrum band, the telco explained.
"Our strengthened 4G network will offer benefits to customers, such as better network performance and stability, and more consistent coverage, especially indoors," said Vodafone CTO Benoit Hanssen.
"A majority of customers in Canberra and surrounds already use devices that are compatible with this spectrum band, so they should immediately notice the improvements without having to do a thing."
The refarming was completed a week ago, Hanssen said, with 4G data consumption jumping by 33 percent since then.
The 850MHz spectrum band had previously been used for 3G connectivity.
Vodafone has also refarmed an additional 5MHz band of its 850MHz spectrum on the coast of NSW, between Nelson Bay and Kiama, as well as the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains, in order to improve 4G coverage and speeds.
"Most of our customers in the Greater Sydney area are already using L850-compatible devices, so they will be able to take advantage of this upgrade in speeds straight away without having to take any action," Hanssen said.
Vodafone's 4G network reaches 96 percent of the metropolitan population of Australia, with the telco upgrading more than 1,000 sites as part of its 4G network enhancement.
Hanssen added that the widespread uptake of streaming services has led to data usage increasing in Queensland.
"We've seen mobile data consumption increase by over 70 percent in the last 12 months, and we expect to see that trend continue as more customers gain access to 4G speeds," said Hanssen.
"The advent of streaming services, combined with state-of-the-art smartphones with beautiful, big displays has changed the way Australians use their mobile devices."
Last month, Vodafone also switched on 850MHz 4G in 235 sites across Queensland, following Vodafone Australia CEO Inaki Berroeta flagging regional expansion plans to bring competition across all areas of the nation in an effort to improve choice and therefore pricing for those living in remote areas.
According to the chief executive, Vodafone plans to have its entire network 4G-enabled by Q1 2016.
He also detailed Vodafone's involvement in the government's mobile blackspots program, which aims to expand Australia's mobile networks to improve regional and remote coverage.
"The mobile blackspot program is a great step forward towards giving customers in regional areas better coverage, and often, for the first time, the opportunity to choose a mobile provider. Choice results in better and lower prices, which means improved productivity for farmers and businesses," Berroeta said in October.
"On the mobile blackspot program ... we've been increasing our network in New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia, and also Victoria. I think one of the biggest areas of potential of this program is the requirement for winning bidders to look at co-investing in mobile towers and shared transmission links with other mobile network operators. Sharing of infrastructure simply makes sense. It helps operators to save costs, and helps consumers by extending coverage and competition."
Berroeta warned that without competition in regional areas, Australia will be left behind by the global digital revolution.
"Mobile technology has a big part to play in building a productive and truly national digital economy. By optimising the use of next-generation mobility, we can leverage Australia's strengths in industries such as agriculture, education, transport, healthcare, and tourism," Berroeta said.
"It is well understood that telecommunications is a critical area of the economy. It can drive jobs, innovation, and productivity, but a lack of competition and innovation in the sector will hold the economy back.
"Currently, in Australia, we have two classes of mobile customers: Those with access to coverage and choice of provider in metropolitan areas, and those without in many regional and rural areas.
"The cost of lack of competition in the telco market across Australia is AU$3.1 billion each year. That's AU$3.1 billion which could be driving growth, but instead, it's threatening the government's worthy aspirations of a world-leading digital economy."
Vodafone in September signed a AU$900 million, 15-year dark fibre deal with Australia's number three fixed-line operator, TPG, which will see TPG build out an extra 4,000km of fibre to connect Vodafone's cell towers across Australia by mid-2018 in an effort to reach more customers.
Vodafone Technology Governance and Strategy general manager Easwaren Siva pointed towards this dark fibre as being a building block towards a 5G network, so that the capacity is ready before the network switch-on in 2020.
"Within the mindset of looking at 5G, there are three elements: Really high bandwidth, critical services, and mass machine-type services with billions of connections around," Siva said.