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With Telstra set to turn off their 3G IS, network in August resulting in owners of old 3G phones being forced onto a 2G network Australia’s No. 2 telco Singtel Optus has announced plans to introduce a 4G mobile phone and data network, 10 months after No. 1 rival Telstra began its 4G service.

Optus’s 4G service, using FDD-LTE technology, will initially be restricted to two Australian cities – Perth and Sydney – and will be available only to business customers. In contrast, Telstra’s 4G launch last September covered all major capital city CBDs and more than 30 regional cities, with both business and consumers able to sign up.

Optus’s networks MD Gunther Ottendorfer told a media briefing yesterday that Melbourne would get the 4G service in coming days or weeks, with Brisbane to follow later this year and Adelaide next year. There was no mention of Canberra, Hobart, Darwin or major regional centres.

Sydney and Perth 4G business users will pay $34.95 a month for a plan that allows them 10GB of data; $54.95 for a 15GB data plan; or $74.95 for a 20GB data deal. Devices to access the network are extra.

Consumer 4G services are expected to be announced in coming weeks.

No 4G-enabled mobile smartphone is available at this stage, but Optus is offering business users their choice –  at extra cost –  of two 4G connection devices: a USB dongle or a what it calls the Optus 4G Mobile Wi-Fi Modem, which enables a number of devices to connect to the basic 4G service wirelessly.

Both devices operate across Optus’s 1800, 2100 and 900MHz spectrum bands, switching to 3G connections where 4G is not available, Optus says.

Optus claims the 4G network is capable of delivering downloads of up to 47 megabits per second, but upload speeds were not stated and market commentators repeat warnings that –  as with Telstra –  theoretical top speeds are not always reached by daily users. (CDN which sometimes uses Telstra’s 4G service, consistently gets about 26Mbps down, compared with 8-10Mbps on our everyday ADSL2+ service).

Optus yesterday also said it is continuing to conduct trials of alternative TD-LTE technology at its Macquarie Park campus and in St Mary’s, Sydney, and has achieved consistent speeds of 25-87Mbps.

Does that mean it plans to replace the current FDD-LTE system with TD-LTE in the future, perhaps requiring new user equipment? “Our goal is to have one single integrated 4G network that utilises the latest LTE technologies to offer our customers a great 4G network experience,” said the ever-tactful Gunther Ottendorfer.

 Optus yesterday also said it has upgraded more than 1000 3G mobile sites that use its 900MHz spectrum, delivering “stronger performance” in regional centres and some capital cities. The technology, which it dubs 3G Plus, will be extended to the rest of the 900Mhz network over the next 12 months, it said.

Eariler this week Telstra said that they will cease to provide mobile services on their early 3G network, known as 3GIS, as of August 31. They said the technology has been superseded by the more advanced Next G network, which operates on both 3G and 4G, and there was little sense continuing to invest in old infrastructure.

Telstra’s Mike Wright “We’re encouraging customers who use their device in Next G coverage areas to upgrade to Next G compatible handsets and mobile broadband devices,” said Mike Wright, executive director of Telstra Networks. “They can take advantage of faster data speeds and wider network coverage.”

The change will affect “a very small fraction” of Telstra customers with older handsets that are incompatible with the Next G network. They will still be able to use their devices for phone calls, text messages and light browsing on the 2G network. But the speed of intensive browsing, such as YouTube streaming or Telstra’s mobile Foxtel service, will suffer significantly for customers with incompatible handsets.

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