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Vodafone plans June 4G launch

Vodafone will launch its 4G service in a number of parts of Australia this June.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Vodafone CEO Bill Morrow has confirmed that the company will launch its 4G long-term evolution (LTE) service to customers in June this year.

The initial 4G network will be in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Wollongong, Newcastle, and the Gold Coast, the company revealed on Monday.

Morrow told journalists in a briefing that Vodafone would follow the lead of Telstra and Optus, and keep its 4G plans on par with the pricing for its 3G services today.

A number of Vodafone staff members are already testing 4G services, and a test witnessed by ZDNet in Vodafone's North Sydney offices showed a download speed of approximately 80 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 20Mbps.

Vodafone has suggested that because it has 20MHz of spectrum in the 1800MHz spectrum band, the network will be able to get speeds of up to 150Mbps.

While the network will start in those initial locations from June, the company plans to have 1,000 sites with 4G by the end of 2013.

Vodafone is the third to market with its 4G services, behind rivals Telstra and Optus. This isn't a concern to Morrow, however.

"That doesn't scare me, because if we were all going to end the race at the end of 2014, I'd be a little worried, but this is a long play that we have. Now it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it right," he said.

In addition to the 4G launch, Vodafone aims to have its 3G HSPA+ network all-IP in metro Australia by the end of 2013, which Morrow said is aimed at improving latency on the network.

The company is expanding its 3G network coverage from June in regional Australia, targeting holiday destinations and major roadways where customers need services. The company will build an additional 2,000 network sites, and has built more than 300 in-building sites around trains, shopping centres, airports, motorways, and tunnels.

The announcement comes as Vodafone seeks to take ownership of its troubled brand image, as the company has shed more than 1 million customers since its network and customer service troubles began in 2010.

"Let's just be straight up with people. What happened, happened. We're not hiding behind anything. 2013 is about earning back trust," Morrow said.

"There were reasons to put us into doubt as to whether we were a carrier of choice for many people, [but] so much has changed," he said.

The company will begin to focus on getting its existing customers to begin recommending the telco to other customers. A study of Vodafone's net promoter score (NPS) found that while the company's overall score is -11, the lowness of the score is attributed mostly to customers who joined between 2011 and 2012, for whom the average is -27. For customers who have joined since 2012, when the company has implemented its network guarantee, it sits at +4. He said that Vodafone will rely on those long-term loyal customers and the new customers to generate a changed perception of the company.

"We want them to be word of mouth that this is a different kind of Vodafone that existed in late 2010 and early 2011," he said.

"We think with the soil we've turned over ... those customers are feeling it and are actually willing to step out and say something about it."

He said Vodafone would not try to be just like Optus or Telstra, and would now focus on being an agile business that is able to adapt. The company has shed about 45 percent of its workforce in the last year, and Morrow said it now sits at around 3,000 employees, with a 20 percent reduction in year-on-year costs.

"That's a good thing. It's clearer who does what, it's clearer in our priority in what we have to do.

"We need to fix every single customer interaction. If I'm going to win you over and have you look at us in an admired sort of way, I can't miss once with you. I need to hit every single time," he said.

Two thirds of the executive team are new, and 35 percent of those under the executives are either new or in new positions. It is part of an overall cultural shift for the company, Morrow said.

"Those that we have here are as committed as anybody I've ever worked with around the world," he said.

"We don't want to try to be Telstra. That isn't anything we're really interested in. We want to be somebody that the customer thinks of as important, as different, as personable. That changes this negative image of the telecoms industry in Australia."

Part of this shift will also see a change in the devices Vodafone offers on its network. Most recently, Vodafone was the only telco of the big three mobile providers not to offer the new BlackBerry phones. Morrow said that Vodafone today supports over 100 different devices, but has found that 90 percent of devices are made by three companies.

"We have reduced what we sourced, and we're very particular about how we go about that."

Vodafone is aiming to begin to be back in customer growth by the end of 2013. Morrow said Vodafone's aim is to have the best customer loyalty, some of the lowest levels of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), and the fastest 4G network in Australia. He said the company would also take advantage of the global Vodafone brand farther down the track.

Morrow indicated that he would also continue to lobby the government to rein in Telstra in the mobile space, where the company is using funding from its fixed-line monopoly in its mobile area.

"The fixed and the mobile for Telstra is very integrated. To me, if you can go back in time, one of the things I would have been advocating is to keep those separated," he said.

"If you take and just lump Vodafone and Optus together at the moment against Telstra, which is in a very fortunate position, there's no way that these two companies are just going to stay back and take a beating forever.

"[Optus and Vodafone are] up against a behemoth; one that has stated publicly that they want to maintain supremacy in that space. We have to rethink."

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