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Telstra, Optus, Vodafone compete on stadium mobile coverage

The three primary mobile telcos are aiming to improve speed and connectivity for customers in ANZ Stadium and the MCG using cloud RAN, 3G and 4G upgrades, and LTE-B.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australia's three biggest mobile telecommunications providers have been pouring resources into serving customers inside of notoriously network-absent stadiums, with Telstra working on the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Optus and Vodafone on ANZ Stadium.

According to a blog post by group managing director of Telstra Networks Mike Wright, the telco is upgrading both its 3G and 4G mobile networks at the MCG for the 100,000 fans who attend the stadium during events.

"Whether its round one of the AFL season, Grand Final Day, or it's the Boxing Day Test Match, spectators will enjoy the sort of experience they expect when they use their mobile device to stream video, browse the internet, upload photos to social media, receive and make telephone calls, or access content on the AFL Live pass," Wright said on Monday.

Telstra has been working on the network upgrade for two years, Wright said, with 430 antennas located throughout the stadium, over 33km of antenna cabling, and 132 transmission modules to "deliver the largest spectral deployment of carrier frequencies in any stadium in the southern hemisphere".

These antennas connect smart devices via a 2km fibre-optic link to a new hub at the North Melbourne Exchange.

The upgrade is also bringing LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) capability to the stadium, which will in future provide customers with dedicated video streaming from cameras inside the stadium.

Telstra had last month announced that it has been working on rolling out its LTE-B network, bringing the network to more than 3,000 4GX sites.

The network is used for live broadcasts and real-time sports highlights inside stadiums and other event locations.

"Telstra is also looking to trial the delivery of software application updates and content prepositioning (pre-caching) on smartphone devices using the Media Optimised Network (MON) to improve the customer experience," Wright added at the time.

Meanwhile, Optus and Vodafone Australia are racing to provide an improved experience to customers inside of ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

Vodafone last week announced that it had partnered with Chinese tech hardware giant Huawei for a Cloud Radio Access Network (RAN) trial to lessen inter-cell interference inside the stadium by enabling closer coordination between base stations.

"We managed to achieve 28 percent higher data speeds at cell edge and 25 percent overall cell average, which are significant improvements," said Vodafone head of RAN Yago Lopez.

"The results exceeded our expectations, so naturally we are very happy with the trial and are excited to begin implementing this technology over the next 18 months."

Vodafone and Huawei added that they will "consider rolling out this technology to more locations".

Three weeks prior to Vodafone's announcement, Optus had said it would be undergoing trials to improve its 4G coverage in and around ANZ Stadium in partnership with Nokia.

According to Nokia head of Oceania Ray Owen, Nokia and Optus are trialling centralised RAN at ANZ Stadium ahead of the State of Origin rugby league series in mid-2016.

Nokia's centralised RAN solution adds to 3G Partnership Project (3GPP) standardisation, bolstering performance for compatible devices without needing to modify existing or build out new LTE base station hardware.

"We are significantly increasing uplink capacity on the Optus 4G Plus network in and around ANZ Stadium, boosting upload speeds while improving download speeds and reducing battery drain," Owen said.

Through centralised RAN, Optus' base stations will employ uplink signals from multiple cells' base stations to cancel interference and choose between 12 receivers for the best signals. Network configuration is optimised each millisecond for every mobile device connected, consistent with the current interference environment, in turn improving LTE upload speeds.

"When there is a high concentration of people and devices on a network, balancing the network's capacity is key," Optus Networks acting managing director Dennis Wong said.

"We are keen to identify ways to deliver streaming to a mass audience without impacting the capacity of the network."

In an effort to deliver live video to those within the stadiums, Optus also flagged its intentions to continue looking into LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) solutions. The trial will be facilitated by Nokia's Liquid Applications, expanding on the companies' 2015 collaboration on Edge Video Orchestration.

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