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Telstra's Next G range a knockout?

Just how good will the reception be on Telstra's Next G mobile network?
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor

commentary Just how good will the reception be on Telstra's Next G mobile network?

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
That's the question many Australians have been asking since the infrastructure was launched with a record level of fanfare in October.

The question is particularly troubling for those living in rural areas, because Next G is slated to replace Telstra's CDMA network, a bush favourite due to its extended coverage range that lets isolated residents stay in touch.

Concerns have also rested on the relatively unpopular 850MHz spectrum Telstra chose for its new network.

This week, Telstra went some way to placating Next G critics by unveiling an upgrade that it claimed had delivered broadband-capable speeds (2.3Mbps) at distances of 200km from the base station. Next G's limit was previously 50km.

Dubbed "Extended Reach" by Ericsson's extremely creative marketing department, the upgrade has already been installed in some of Telstra's rural sites, boosting the maximum range and delivering higher speeds (up to a potential 14.4Mbps, from 3.6Mbps) close up.

Now all this sounds fantastic on paper.

But doubts have already been raised as to whether these great sounding statistics can be replicated in real life.

"When you do the path loss calculations, considering the antenna systems and power levels at each end, the 2.3Mbps at 200km claim is clearly impossible," one reader wrote yesterday, taking Telstra and Ericsson to task for their claims.

"Telstra is the master of spin -- you can be sure that it wasn't a standard hand-held phone working over that distance," wrote another reader. "When installing 899-900 MHz systems years ago, we were lucky to get 70-100km with high-gain aerials on 30 metre towers on the top of line of site hills."

But Robin Simpson, a research director covering the mobile and wireless space for analyst group Gartner, poured cold water over the scepticism. "The whole Telstra thing is actually eminently do-able and there's good technological reasons how they can do it," he told your writer this morning.

The analyst noted mobile base stations could be configured to focus on providing two of the following: greater range, greater bandwidth, or greater capacity (number of concurrent connections).

Telstra, Simpson surmised, had likely tweaked some of its base stations in rural areas for better range, while also taking advantage of new data encoding techniques available through new versions of the high speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) protocol.

In metropolitan areas where there were more base stations, he said, it made sense to focus on greater capacity and bandwidth, at the cost of extended range.

Simpson also noted that the 850MHz frequency being used by Telstra provided better range overall than the 2100MHz frequency historically popular for third-generation (3G) mobile networks.

"I think the scepticism is unfounded," he concluded.

When queried on the issue, a Telstra spokesperson pointed out his company wouldn't be announcing the speed upgrade to the Australian Stock Exchange if it couldn't prove its claims. Ericsson didn't respond to a request for comment at press time.

Will you be taking Telstra's 200km extended range claim with a grain of salt? Or do you agree with Gartner that Telstra and Ericsson are on the level? Drop your writer a line directly at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au or post your thoughts below this article.

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