Optus launches 4G TD-LTE in Canberra

Telco to soon release multi-band USB dongles supporting FD- and TD-LTE.
Optus managing director of networks, Guenther Ottendorfer, lays out the  future of 4G.

Optus managing director of networks, Guenther Ottendorfer, lays out the future of 4G.

Optus has launched a faster version of LTE in Canberra, but so far the technology only supports 4G dongles.

Optus announced today it has gone live with its Time-Division LTE (TD-LTE) 4G network in Canberra, using the telco’s spectrum in the 2.3GHz band. Optus currently uses frequency-division LTE (FD-LTE) technology in the 1800MHz band for 4G in other markets; it has not rolled out FD-LTE in Canberra.

TD-LTE is faster than FD-LTE, with higher throughput, but no smartphones in the Australian market yet support the network technology. Existing 4G smartphones will revert to 3G when used in Canberra.

4G in Australia: The state of the nation

Optus plans to release a USB 4G broadband modem supporting both types of LTE and 3G HSPA+ in early June, the company said. A Wi-Fi modem supporting the same network technologies is due later on.

At a media event this morning, Optus managing director of networks, Günther Ottendorfer, said TD-LTE smartphones are already available in Japan and should be coming to Australia in the future. The Japanese handsets will not work on the Optus network, he said.

“We are really confident that the TD-LTE ecosystem has developed to a point where it’s ready to launch services,” said Ottendorfer, who will leave the company this July to move back to Austria.

Ottendorfer said TD-LTE users in Canberra can expect 61Mbps download speeds “in practical use.”

Optus now has 4G FD-LTE coverage in five state capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane—as well as popular regional tourist destinations including Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast.

Optus expects to cover at least 70 per cent of Australia’s population with 4G speeds by mid-2014, said Optus mobile engineering vice president, Andrew Smith. Optus said its 3G network covers 98 per cent of the population.

In Canberra, Optus has 12 TD-LTE base stations, with another 20 to be built in the next few months, said Smith.

Also, the telco plans this year to prepare its network to use 700MHz and 2.5GHz spectrum won in the recent Digital Dividend auction. Optus bought 10MHz of paired 700MHz spectrum and 20MHz of paired 2.5GHz spectrum.

The recently acquired Digital Dividend spectrum will not be available for mobile operators to use until 2015. The bands must first be cleared of their existing users.

“At the moment, regional has been a challenge for us” due to “the amount of spectrum we’ve had,” Smith said. Optus expects the 700MHz spectrum won in the auction to enhance regional coverage because low-frequency spectrum can travel a greater distance and therefore requires fewer base stations.

Smith said Optus is in “lots of discussions with the vendors” about carrier aggregation, a feature of upcoming LTE Advanced that allows operators to combine bandwidth channels in non-contiguous bands. The technology will improve network and performance, but Optus does not have “firm timing” for release, he said.

Telstra announced plans earlier this year to deploy LTE Advanced technologies that combine its spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands for extra capacity.

LTE Broadcast, another technology Telstra is exploring, is “not a big focus for [Optus] right now,” Smith said. LTE-B allows a telco to broadcast one video stream to multiple people at the same time, which is more efficient than the current method in which video is streamed separately to each customer.

Voice over LTE using the 700MHz band is “in the roadmap,” said Smith. Only “a couple” other carriers in the world have done it so far, he said. “While there are some good technical attributes to it, you really have to make sure you get voice right.”

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