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Telstra unveils 4G network upgrades

Telstra announced it will refarm 900MHz spectrum as it continues to deploy and upgrade its 4G network. The telco today also previewed plans to deploy LTE Advanced and small cell networks in Australia.

The 900MHz spectrum is lower frequency than the 1800MHz spectrum Telstra currently uses for 4G LTE services, which makes it ideal for regional areas because it can travel further distances.

Telstra is testing and currently rolling out 900MHz 4G in north Brisbane. The telco is also looking at possible deployments in Kalgoorlie, Warrnambool, Alice Springs, Mount Isa and other places "where it makes sense," said Telstra executive director of networks and access technologies, Mike Wright.

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the only existing Telstra smartphone that supports 900MHz, said Telstra executive director of mobile, Warwick Bray. Telstra chief operating officer, Brendon Riley, said to expect more devices supporting 900MHz from the second half this year.

"Most of our 4G smartphones and broadband devices will feature 900MHz along with 1800MHz," Riley said. Telstra is working with Sierra Wireless on software upgrades so its 4G broadband devices can access 900MHz, he added.

LTE Advanced services to be deployed later this year will be able to combine the 900MHz and 1800MHz signals for extra capacity, Telstra said. LTE Advanced will be deployed in areas with heavy traffic demand over a great distance, the company said.

Telstra currently uses 900MHz spectrum for its 2G network. Telstra officials said only a small percentage of customers use 2G and the telco no longer sells any 2G devices.

However, Telstra has stopped short of shuttering the 2G network altogether, as telcos in some other countries are doing. Wright said Telstra will preserve a portion of its 900MHz spectrum for 2G.

Meanwhile, Telstra said it's trialling small cell networks, called heterogeneous networks (HetNets) to expand network capacity in busy locations with dense populations, including city centres and sports arenas. The HetNets target high traffic areas where it's not practical to build large base stations, Telstra said.

In addition, Telstra is testing LTE Broadcast technology, which would allow the telco to broadcast one video stream to multiple people at the same time. That would be more efficient than the current method in which video is streamed separately to each customer, Wright said.

"We already are seeing a significant increase in that video load, and so mobile networks are going to need to ... in some sense be more like broadcast networks," said Riley.

Surging data traffic, especially video, is driving the need for network upgrades, Telstra officials said. Telstra estimated that its customers this year will use as much mobile data as they did in the past two years combined.

"The tsunami ... that comes at us each year is bigger than the one before," said Wright, adding that traffic over the 4G network is growing 20 per cent per month.

Telstra has dedicated $1.2 billion to its mobile network for the 2012-13 period. The telco plans to build 1,000 new 4G base stations this year and cover two-thirds of the population with 4G by June, said Brendan Riley.

Telstra CEO David Thodey has said recently that the Apple iPhone 5 has helped drive 1.5 million customers to 4G. He said the telco is trying to migrate as many customers as possible to 4G because it's a cheaper way to carry data.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia, the only major Australian telco without 4G, said yesterday that it's trialling LTE in eastern Sydney. Vodafone's network is expected to go live later this year.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia


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