Get ready for the 4G hype machine

Get ready for the 4G hype machine

It promises wireless download speeds fast enough to make ADSL2+ users jealous. Now Optus, Telstra and Vodafone are all readying 4G LTE networks.

With all the attention on the NBN rollout, it's interesting that for many Australians their next big broadband speed jump will quite possibly come from a wireless dongle.

That dongle will be of the 4G variety, which has shown 50Mbps and faster download speeds and 20Mbps upload speeds in various trials, as well as lower latency than 3G and better coverage within network cells. It will also usher in a new breed of phones that take advantage of this faster wireless future, like the HTC ThunderBolt.

Optus today announced its own plans to turn on a 4G LTE network in April 2012, joining Telstra and Vodafone who are both either offering (a limited offering in Telstra's case), or readying the capability to offer 4G services. With the three carriers preparing for this speed boost, the 4G hype machine will be in full swing next year across several cities and regional areas.

This might come as some comfort for those complaining about not being on the initial NBN rollout schedule (and maybe for those others who think it's a waste of money).

So who's getting 4G and when? Today Optus announced a two phase rollout for its 4G network. The first places to receive Optus 4G LTE from April 2012 will be:

  • Newcastle
  • Port Stephens
  • Hunter Valley
  • Lake Macquarie

The month after, from "mid-2012", Optus will begin its capital city rollout in:

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Perth

Optus hasn't announced dates for when the next phase of the 4G rollout will reach other areas, though did mention that this will include Brisbane and Adelaide.

How fast, how much?

Optus mobile technology timeline. Click to enlarge. Source: Optus.

The biggest drawcard for 4G is speed. There is already a 4G USB dongle capable of a theoretical peak (not average) download speed of 100Mbps. Wireless is a shared medium though, and real life speeds will differ.

In field trials, Optus reports download speeds of 50Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps. At today's media event, company representatives didn't give any further indication of what sort of average speeds users can expect, which isn't surprising.

Telstra is already offering a 4G USB modem for business users as part of a commercial pilot in Sydney Melbourne and Brisbane. Telstra plans to launch wider 4G services by the end of the year. A spokesperson has been quoted saying the service will be faster than Telstra's HSPA+ Ultimate modem, which is capable of up to 20Mbps.

Unless something drastic happens to wireless data quotas and prices, you can probably forget about this being an alternative to ADSL services with big data caps. It will be a "long time" before we see mobile data quotas reach the same level as fixed line broadband, the managing director of Optus Networks Gunther Ottendorfer said today.

When Telstra announced its first 4G services, they included a $49 plan that came with 7GB of data over 24 months. Optus hasn't announced prices for its 4G services yet.

The carrier has no doubt learnt some hard lessons in the past from complaints about network performance. At today's media event, Optus alluded to "perception" problems about the performance of its network. 

With Apple's iCloud encouraging iPhone users to start syncing music and video over the air, no doubt that mobile data squeeze is only going to get tighter, as the carriers all race to keep up.

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