Optus today announced 4G LTE rollout will cover 70% of the metro population - 4% more than Telstra's 66% coverage aimed by end of 2013.
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The telco is looking to gain advantage in the highly competitive 4G race against its arch rival by launching a "new flavour" 4G TD (Time Division) LTE network on 2300 MHZ, promising faster speeds (tests hits 61Mbps) and is good for Internet TV streaming or other web services that require a lot of downloads.
The new 4G TD LTE service is live in Canberra from today as part of a pilot stage, with rollout to follow in other areas later this year and into 2014, Optus announced at a media event in Sydney.
Time Division LTE technology is unpaired spectrum, where uploads/downloads of data happens on the same frequency, but at different times, and will roll out to more base stations in the next three months.
Optus currently uses FD-LTE 4G network technology on 1800MHZ spectrum, which uses two separate frequency channels or 'pipes', one for uploads and downloads.
The two 4G technologies combined will mean Optus will have the first dual-band 4G network in Australia.
"The moment has come for the next phase," declared Andrew Smith, Optus' Vice President of Mobile Engineering, admitting the move is part of an "aggressive rollout".
"As part of our national rollout this coming year, many new mobile sites and upgrades across metro locations will have the combined 4G technologies of TD-LTE and FD-LTE, allowing customers with compatible devices access to Optus' superfast 4G in more places".
However, no TD LTE handsets, modem or dongles are available in the Aussie market at present - but "Optus say they are "confident that TD-LTE ecosystem are ready to launch" and are working with Japanese telco Softbank on the technology.
Optus' 4G Dual Band network will be available to Canberra customers from early June, when it kicks off selling TD-LTE ready mobile broadband modems, but also plans to sell TD-LTE compatible smartphones and dual-band dongles soon after.
"We are confident TD LTE rollout further in next three months ecosystem has developed to a point where it is ready to launch services" said Gunther Ottendorfer, Managing Director of Optus Network.
"The latency is quite remarkable", and says he is "pretty confident" handsets will be available soon, and will announce more on models and pricing in the coming weeks.
At today's event in Sydney, the telco gave media a sneak peek at a several TD ready smartphones including Motorola TD-LTE ready handset currently used in Japan.
Test speeds in Canberra for TD-LTE hit 70Mbps, 61Mbps in practical use, but other tests in full bandwidth hit 90Mbps, and has configured the network at 3:1 download/ upload ratio.
Optus TD-LTE trials are also underway in St Mary's in Sydney.
Optus current 4G FD -LTE service delivers download speeds of up to 47 megabits per second.
The "new flavour" 4G TD-LTE is good for downloads and services like Internet TV, but says it will "continue to expand FD 4G story" and its aim is to expand coverage for both types of 4G (FD and TD) this year to reach over 70 per cent of the metro population by mid-2014, said Smith.
The telco are hoping this new 4G technology will expand its 4G footprint and differentiate it service from with rivals (it recently said it sold over 750,0000 4G handsets and mobile data will drive revenues in the future, in an otherwise static growth mobile market).
But its not just metro areas, Optus also upgrading FD-LTE mobile sites in holiday resorts including ski fields, Gold Coast, ANZ stadium, Cricket Ground, Gold Coast and Margaret River.
4G coverage started around CBD and is continuing to expand out to the suburbs, in all main cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra. 4G rollout will accelerate in 3rd and fourth quarter 2013.
The timing of the TD LTE launch is interesting, since rival Vodafone will launch its 4G service next month, while Telstra upped the ante earlier this year by announcing it would expand its 4G LTE coverage to 66% of the population, and has more than 2 million customers on its advanced network.
But 3G is still Optus' "workhorse", Ottendorfer said, despite all the hoo-haw about faster 4G services, and says 3G coverage now reaches 98 per cent of the Australian population.
It also said it will upgrade 3G + in 1000 sites over next 24 months hitting Canberra, Newcastle, Adelaide, Central Coast this year, the only remaining area that don't have the advanced 3G+ services.
More and more festival events need 4G and 3G coverage - "not only voice but huge amount of data and uploading images" occur at these events said Smith, as it seeks to continue to give better coverage at big events.
The telco says they are listening to customers whos top priorities are data speeds, coverage at home and on the go.
The telco is preparing its mobile network for the new 700 MHz and 2500 MHz spectrum it acquired in the recent auction, which Smith says give customers "swift access to the stronger 4G coverage".
"This strategy of combining 4G technologies - low-band 4G frequency for strong coverage, high-band spectrum to increase network capacity - gives Optus flexibility to meet our customers' need for additional capacity and faster network speeds".