Vodafone Australia has confirmed plans to begin rolling out its fourth-generation LTE network from next year in a bid to improve its mobile network and catch up to rivals Telstra and Optus.
The nation's third largest telco will boost the investment in its national network to roll out dual-carrier HSPA technology — capable of 42 Mbps peak download speeds — from September this year, while beginning construction on its LTE network "from 2013".
The DC-HSPA network will be labelled "3G+", departing from a standard consensus among Australian telcos to label all HSPA networks as simply 3G.
The announcement this morning is the first time Vodafone has made clear plans about its intention for faster 3G and 4G networks.
Chief executive Bill Morrow — who joined the company in March — hinted of plans to accelerate the 4G rollout at the company's annual general meeting earlier this year.
"I wouldn't look at it as a 'beat [Telstra]' and I'm telling my executives that. Telstra is not our focus, it's the customer," he said at the time.
He is credited with the beginning of the LTE rollout at his former employer, US carrier Clearwire.
"It's certainly a renewed focus on the network, particularly with 3G+," VHA consumer business director Noel Hamill said.
"It was already in our plan to rollout this year, so we're committed to doing that."
Vodafone's new network upgrade comes on the back of a $500 million network overhaul sparked by a customer exodus from late 2010, and a total $1 billion spent on network integration and upgrades since Vodafone's merger with 3 Australia to form VHA.
The initial network upgrade is expected to be completed by the end of the year, supported by additional capacity through new fibre backhaul leasing agreements, new IP-capable transmission equipment at base stations and a site-sharing agreement with Optus aimed at speeding up new tower builds and boosting coverage.
Some users have reported seeing connections to Vodafone towers over HSPA+, providing a theoretical peak speed of 14.4 Mbps, up from 7.2 Mbps.
While Huawei won the lion's share of the original contract to build Vodafone's 850 MHz network, its share of the new network upgrade is still uncertain.
Vodafone has previously indicated it planned to "flick the switch" on further upgrades to its network by installing new line cards in the Huawei equipment attached to new mobile stations.
However, the telco today said it plans to finalise its LTE roadmap "after working through the required tender process and contract negotiations".
Hamill said that Huawei equipment would still be used as part of the LTE upgrade at the base station side, but that the Chinese networking vendor would have to fend off Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks in a selective tender process for the IP enablement and core network intelligence systems also being rolled out as part of the 4G upgrade.
The announcement today was hampered by a significant network outage this morning that saw intermittent speed drops to most 3G services in all states except Western Australia and the ACT for two-and-a-half hours.
It also sees Vodafone lagging behind the network improvement efforts of Telstra, which has had a 4G network for nine months, and Optus, which plans to roll out its LTE network to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth by the end of the year.
Hamill said DC-HSPA+ capabilities would provide a "demonstrable difference" to existing customers, with LTE as a sweetener in future.
The telco appeared to remain hesitant on device availability, however, with the new iPad being the only device offered by the company that is currently capable of taking advantage of its 3G+ capability.
"I do appreciate the competitive environment we're working in but we're focused on improving the experience our customers are having today; getting that faster, more reliable and better quality," Hamill said.