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How to: Choosing the right wireless broadband provider

Now that the major players are launching their 4G networks, it might be time for businesses to look at what improvements they can get from their mobile broadband providers. We take a look at what's on offer.

When you are talking wireless broadband providers in Australia, you are really talking about wireless network providers, and there are only the three: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone Hutchinson.

Other providers piggy-bank onto the big three's networks, and while Optus and to a less extent Vodafone are constantly upgrading their coverage, Telstra still has by far the widest.

Optus isn't taking that lying down, of course, recently announcing the roll-out of its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) services and an upgrade of its existing 3G network to migrate over half of its available 2G spectrum at 900MHz to 3G.

It is also the first Australian carrier to be awarded a licence to trial LTE services in the 700 MHz spectrum band, which it says delivers greater reach and enhanced in-building coverage and will be vital in delivering services to regional Australia. A trial will take place in Victoria and will be the first time in Australia that the former analogue TV frequency will be used for 4G services and applications.

"Phase one of Optus' roll-out will provide extensive 4G coverage and is timed to coincide with a significantly expanded 4G device range, to deliver the best value and choice for customers," Optus CEO Paul O'Sullivan said in a statement.

It will begin a capital city roll-out of 4G in October -- with services available from mid-2012 -- and a roll-out to regional centres in NSW in April next year.

Optus has also promised to improve its current 3G network by increasing data speeds through the use of HSPA+ technology on its mobile network. It has upgraded more than 700 mobile sites across the country to HSPA+ and plans to continue to extend its HSPA+ footprint.

Upgrading HSPA+ capacity is something Telstra completed last year, offering speeds to rival 4G LTE networks. Using dual carrier technology, the refreshed network can send and receive wireless data using two channels to provide peak download speeds of up to 42Mbps.

"With HSPA+ Dual Carrier technology, we expect to offer speeds that are comparable to the initial speeds we have seen reported from some fledgling 4G LTE networks," Telstra CEO, David Thodey, said in a statement. "While LTE remains on Telstra's technology roadmap, there is a huge amount of potential remaining in HSPA+.

"We will take full advantage of this by again doubling our peak network speeds to 84Mbps through the implementation of HSPA+ Dual Carrier plus multiple input multiple output [MIMO] technology during 2011."

Telstra is also the only telco to make a 4G wireless device available, launching a Sierra wireless transmitter or dongle in May. Dongle devices will be offered until LTE handsets and tablets become available in Australia. The dongle works on both 850 and 1800 Mhz.

Vodafone is also improving its network coverage, beginning a 2G and 3G radio access network replacement program at all of its base stations in Australia. It will replace around 5800 existing 2G and 3G base station sites with Huawei's SingleRAN solution, which is capable of delivering 2G, 3G and 4G LTE from a single base station site. Vodafone will also install the new Huawei network equipment at more than 2200 new base station sites that it will bring into its network over the next year.

"This network upgrade will allow Vodafone to offer cutting edge mobile speeds and services across its mobile network," Huawei Australia's CTO, Peter Rossi, said in a statement. "Huawei's SingleRAN solution will enable Vodafone to upgrade to 4G or LTE at the flick of a switch, with the first LTE next generation services expected to come online later this year."

The new network equipment that is being installed is based on the maximum theoretical standards of 42MBps. Vodafone is also working with Huawei to prepare the Vodafone network for an upgrade to 4G or LTE, which has maximum theoretical download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

Vodafone and Huawei undertook live trials of LTE technology in Newcastle during the last quarter of 2010 and achieved download speeds of up to 74.3 Mbps, under test conditions.

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