Vodafone is serious about 4G, that’s nothing new, after switching on their 4G network back in June last year, the network has in independent testing shown it runs one of the fastest networks in Australia. But now they want their 4G network to reach more people, so today, they’ve announced a new plan which will extend their 4G coverage to reach 95% of Australia’s metro residents by the end of this year.
The way Vodafone intends to do it is a little bit interesting. The extension will be at the cost of the 850MHz 3G network, which Vodafone will re-farm to use 4G technology. The use of the 850MHz network will somewhat offset the lack of any low-band LTE spectrum on the Vodafone network. Optus and Telstra both purchased spectrum in the 700MHz band in the ACMA auction last year, which Vodafone pulled out of. Optus and Telstra have both begun trials of LTE in the 700MHz band, so Vodafone is very much in need of a competing technology to match the excellent building penetration of the lower frequency.
The 850MHz was previously used by Vodafone to extend the reach of their 3G network, but Vodafone, who acquired the spectrum courtesy of ex-telco brand Orange through their partnership with Hutchison, seems to be pushing more into 4G as a way to offer their customers a premium service. Vodafone sees 4G as a network evolution and the flexibility of using spectrum they already own, obviously gives the company an easy way to get the lower frequency spectrum without a huge investment in spectrum. Vodafone still retains use of the 900MHz and 2100MHz networks for 3G use, and with customer retention still at the forefront, you can imagine the re-farming of spectrum will be done with customer experience in mind.
The use of 850MHz LTE is also going to mean an easy switch for customers, with Vodafone advising that as opposed to the 700MHz frequency that Optus and Telstra will be using for LTE : ‘The majority of available 4G smartphones and tablets are designed to work on the 850MHz spectrum Vodafone plans to use.’ Chief Technology Officer Benoit Hanssen says
Australian smartphone customers already have handsets that will work on Vodafone’s low-band 4G 850MHz network. However, nearly all smartphones that have been sold since the introduction of 4G in Australia do not support the APT-700MHz spectrum. Customers on other networks will therefore require a new device in order to experience low-band 4G services.
The 850MHz 4G network has already been tested at more than 40 sites in Newcastle in NSW, where a range of 4G-compatible devices were tested.
This is definitely something to watch, and outwardly seems to be a fairly clever way to get access to that lower frequency without outlaying large amounts of cash – Optus and Telstra spent almost $2 billion dollars last year acquiring spectrum in the 700MHz and 2.5GHz range. We’ll have to wait and see exactly how customer experience goes when Vodafone flick the switch.