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Telstra's superfast 4G hints at Vodafone's prospects

Will 4G be Vodafone's saviour?
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telstra's brag about getting 90 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds using CAT4 4G devices in Perth could give us a hint about Vodafone's chances with 4G.

Late last year, I travelled to Perth and did a few speed tests on both Telstra's and Optus' 4G long term evolution (LTE) networks. Telstra out performed on 4G by far, where in Melbourne and Sydney, Optus was clearly ahead. There were two reasons for this: Telstra has more 1800MHz spectrum holdings in Perth than just about anywhere else, and there's fewer 4G users there than in the centre of Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane.

So it's really no great surprise that Telstra chose Perth to do this test, but to Telstra's credit, the company's executive director of networks, Mike Wright, pointed out all the conditions that would be needed (including the 20MHz of spectrum) in order to achieve those sorts of speeds.

The company's second biggest mobile rival Vodafone yesterday revealed that in tests of its yet to be launched 4G network in Sydney's eastern suburbs, it was about to get speeds of up to 67Mbps with 10 MHz of spectrum. That is, of course, without anyone else on the network, so is not a true reflection of what speeds people will end up seeing once Vodafone launches its network.

But as Vodafone pointed out, the company has 20MHz of 1800MHz spectrum in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, where as Optus has 15MHz, and Telstra has between 10MHz and 20MHz.

This means that, in theory, Vodafone could potentially see much greater speeds on its 4G network across the country once it's up and running. And even more so if Vodafone brings out a few CAT4 devices to go with it.

Of course, there will be a number of factors that could impact the performance, including the ongoing issue for Vodafone in getting sufficient fibre backhaul on its network to ensure that it can deliver those fast speeds.

We won't know until we get our hands on the 4G devices to test them out, but there's a good chance that starting from scratch with no 4G customers, competing against Telstra's existing 4G network with 1.5 million 4G customers and less spectrum in the 1800MHz band, we will see Vodafone outperforming Telstra, and most likely Optus, too.

And so it's no great surprise that Telstra announced this morning that it would look to start trialling the next stage of LTE, called LTE-Advanced, which offers greater speeds and the ability to combine spectrum bands, such as the 1800MHz and the 900MHz bands.

But any potential speed win for Vodafone might end up being short-lived. When Telstra buys up 700MHz in the digital dividend auction in April, if it wins the full allowance of 25MHz in the 700MHz band, along with what Telstra picks up in the 2.5GHz band, Telstra will have a fair bit of spectrum around the country to use for 4G.

The difficulty for Vodafone will be building back the trust in the company after two years of a reputation for having a less-than-stellar network, as it continues to shed customers by the truckload. The 3G overhaul has been completed, and the so-called "3G Plus" upgrades are well on their way to completion, but perhaps what might get people to reconsider the troubled company is a brand new super-fast 4G network with prices that will no doubt win back some of those disgruntled customers.

What do you think? Is 4G Vodafone's saviour?

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