Vodafone has announced a New Year's resolution that will be music to the ears of long-suffering regional mobile phone users -- promising to spend up to AU$500 million on a next generation mobile broadband network that will cover some 95 percent of the Australian population by Christmas 2008.
Vodafone Australia CEO Russell Hewitt says the mobile carrier will make a national mobile broadband network its "number one priority for 2008".
The carrier is currently evaluating proposals from equipment manufacturers Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei for the build-out of HSPA and radio equipment for the new network. Vodafone Australia chief technology officer Andy Reeves says he expects the winning equipment vendor to be selected before the end of the month.
The carrier will maintain its existing 3G network sharing joint-venture with Optus in major metropolitan areas, but will upgrade its existing 2G network -- which covers 93 percent of the Australian population -- to a new network that offers far higher speeds to a wider number of users.
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"The current 3G network we share with Optus covers about 55 percent of the population," Reeves said. "Now we are building our own next generation network to take that coverage to 95 percent."
The new network, Reeves said, will be at least as fast as the network Vodafone shares with Optus -- a theoretical downlink speed of 3.2Mbps.
The new network will be based on both the 900Mhz and 2100Mhz mobile spectrum. The 2100Mhz band tends to work best in areas of dense population, Reeves said, whereas the 900Mhz band tends to be better for achieving broader reach.
Optus has also been trialling the use of 900MHz mobile spectrum in regional areas. Vodafone's new national network will compete directly with Telstra's high-speed Next G network but Reeves declined to comment as to whether Vodafone's network will be more affordable.
"We haven't really worked out exact details on pricing plans just yet," he said.
Reeves said Vodafone does not anticipate receiving any government assistance in providing the high speed network to regional areas.