Telstra has revealed plans to commercially deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile technology on its Next G network by the end of the year.
The telco will also upgrade the remaining 3G parts of its Next G network "over time with next-generation 42 Mbps HSPA+ technologies", chief executive David Thodey said in a speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The LTE network will operate in the central business districts of all Australian capital cities and "selected regional centres", he said.
It will utilise Telstra's existing 1800 MHz spectrum assets - a band that the telco had conducted tests in over the past several months.
The potential to refarm and reuse existing 2G and 3G spectrum bands - such as 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz - for LTE services has been recognised by other Australian telcos in their respective LTE trials.
However, no Australian telcos other than Telstra have announced concrete plans for the commercial rollout of LTE technology.
It was thought that most would wait for the release of digital dividend spectrum - predicted to be auctioned in 2013/14 - before jumping into LTE networks commercially.
Carriers globally planned to deploy LTE services in the 700 MHz and 2600 MHz bands.
Network equipment vendor Ericsson will supply its new RBS 6000 base stations and upgrade Telstra's packet core network with its Evolved Packet Core product to support Telstra's LTE radio network.
"Services included in the contract are network roll out, design, integration and learning services," an Ericsson spokesman said.
The deal, which has been on the cards for several months, was pegged by Communications Day last month as being worth up to $473 million to Ericsson.
No specific deal amount was revealed in statements from Telstra and Ericsson overnight.
Thodey said that the planned upgrades would "not require incremental investment to existing plans, instead being funded from Telstra's existing budget for capital expenditure."
Thodey also said that Telstra planned to sell dual mode LTE/HSPA+ mobile broadband devices that would be able to take advantage of the upgraded network, where available, reverting back to 3G broadband services in non-LTE coverage areas.
Telstra had conducted trials of LTE equipment from Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia-Siemens Networks late last year.
At the time, Telstra did not mention the lab and field test results it had been able to achieve on the Ericsson portion of its LTE trials.
But - using non-Ericsson technology - Telstra had reported achieving an average 88.1 Mbps downlink and 29.6 Mbps uplink at the edges of a 75 kilometre cell. Importantly, this was achieved in 2.5 GHz spectrum - a higher frequency band than the carrier said it would likely use to deploy LTE over long distances.
In a separate round of tests, Telstra conducted specific LTE trials in the 1800 MHz band, pushing a Huawei network in the lab to speeds of 149 Mbps down and 59 Mbps up.
NBN uptake at risk?
Telstra's LTE announcement came less than a day after Federal Government-appointed corporate advisers Greenhill Caliburn warned Canberra about the risks that mobile wireless technology posed to take-up assumptions in NBN Co's business plan.
"Trends towards 'mobile centric' broadband networks could also have significant long-term implications for NBN Co's fibre offerings, to the extent that some consumers may be willing to sacrifice higher speed fibre transmissions for the convenience of mobile platforms," Greenhill stated in a report, most of which was suppressed.
"Although NBN Co has received guidance from independent experts on expected levels of wireless-only households and reflected the same in the corporate plan, the prevalence of such homes should be carefully monitored in connection with ongoing performance management efforts."
It was unclear to what extent Telstra's move to a commercial LTE network would impact take-up of NBN services.
Most - if not all - trials of LTE in Australia had been performed using trial networks with relatively low numbers of test "users", primarily because customer equipment such as modems were still unavailable or only available in small numbers.
That meant it was still unclear how LTE networks would perform under loads regularly experienced on 3G networks.
Until Telstra's announcement, it had been thought that vividwireless may be the first carrier in Australia to deploy LTE technology commercially.
Despite talking up LTE at a recent demonstration, vividwireless remains committed only to more trials of LTE technology, not to a purchase of necessary equipment from its chosen vendor Huawei.
Will Next G's LTE network make you think twice about taking an NBN fibre connection? Have your say below.
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Issue: 347 | March 2016