The number of 4G-LTE users in Australia is accelerating with the country on track to surpass 2 million connections by the end of the next year, according to the latest Wireless Intelligence forecasts. Market-leader Telstra is expected to account for about three quarters of the Australian 4G market by Q4 2013. Telstra has pledged to expand 4G coverage from 40 percent of the population to 66 percent during its current fiscal year by mid 2013..
Number-two operator Optus switched on its first LTE networks for consumers this month, providing the first 4G competition for Telstra, which has been live since September 2011. The company’s 4G service is currently available in Sydney, Newcastle, Perth, and Melbourne.
The country’s third operator, VHA, is due to launch next year.
Like Telstra, Optus is deploying LTE at 1800 MHz using refarmed 2G spectrum while it waits for digital dividend (700 MHz) spectrum to become available. Telstra will get the LTE version of Samsung’s Galaxy S3 in October
Optus has also recently completed the acquisition of local WiMAX operator Vividwireless with the intention of using its 2.3 GHz spectrum for a supplementary TD-LTE network. Optus plans to increase its 4G footprint, in part through a rollout of TD-LTE services from the beginning of 2013, using the spectrum it gained through the $230 million purchase of Vividwireless in February.
Optus joined the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI), to develop and promote TD-LTE. That alliance includes China Mobile, Japan’s Softbank, India’s Bharti Airtel, Clearwire in the US, and the UK’s Vodafone, along with Dish and DirecTV. It also includes Australian’s National Broadband Network – which is using TD-LTE for its fixed wireless and satellite services in remote areas. Suppliers include China’s Huawei Technologies, Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent.
Telstra’s LTE network complements its ‘Next G’ network, which runs at 850 MHz and boasts 99 percent population coverage. Launched back in 2006, Next G was one of the world’s first HSPA networks and Telstra had migrated 84 percent of its base onto this network by Q2 2012. This enabled it to recently shut down an earlier 3G 2100 MHz network which it had operated as a JV with Hutchison (now one half of VHA). Sites are to be split between the two former partners and recommissioned with new equipment.
Meanwhile, Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) is close to completing a two-year 3G upgrade using 850 MHz spectrum, and does not plan to migrate to LTE until next year at the earliest. It is offering dual-carrier HSPA+, branded as ‘3G+’. VHA has been the poorest performer in terms of subscriber growth, its connections base declining by 5 percent over the last year to 6.8 million.
About 458 million dual-mode (TD-LTE + FDD-LTE) devices will be activated by 2016, according to a study by Maravedis-Rethink. By contrast, Wimax devices activated will decrease by 52 percent over the next five years, accounting for only 3 percent or 17 million by 2016.