4G wars: Can Optus and Vodafone compete with Telstra?

4G wars: Can Optus and Vodafone compete with Telstra?

A look at the technical side of telcos' 4G network rollouts – how it’s done, how long it takes and what role spectrum frequencies play in 4G performance.

Telco competition

While Telstra and Vodafone have announced limited 4G connectivity in some metropolitan areas, Vodafone is still yet to launch 4G services, stating it plans to offer 4G to its customers in early 2013.

“The problem for Vodafone, and it’s been written in the press many times, is that they’re just trying to stabilise and improve their 3G offering at a time when the other two are going to 4G,” Gregory says.

He says Optus and Vodafone will struggle in the 4G race against Telstra, despite Optus and Vodafone signing an agreement in May this year to pool their resources to improve network coverage and cute costs.

“The new agreement will also allow us to deploy 3G on our existing low frequency 900MHz spectrum on over 3,800 sites in the extended site sharing joint venture,” an internal Optus email said.

The agreement will also allow the two telcos to more aggressively pursue the rollout of 3.5G (HSPA+) and 4G services, with the telcos to jointly build 500 new base stations across shared sites over the next four years.

However, Gregory says spectrum access could prove problematic for Optus and Vodafone in the 4G market and won’t be enough to compete with Telstra.

“Optus and Vodafone are both guilty, if you like, of trying to minimise the number of base stations. Part of their problem is that they also have a lot less spectrum than Telstra has. Telstra has been very careful to ensure that they have enough spectrum for systems moving forward and that availability of spectrum has always been Telstra’s trump card,” he says.

“As far as the mobile phone towers are concerned, it’s quite true that Telstra really leads the way in terms of the placement of mobile phone towers, but also picocells and macro cells within places like supermarkets and train stations and other places. Their network is, overall, much more consistent, if you like, than the other two companies.”

This will mean while Telstra can continue to roll out its 4G technology, Optus has already hit a brick wall and will be unable to sufficiently carry out its 4G rollout until it can gain access to 700MHz, Gregory says.

Telstra will also “piggy back” on new handsets which are released with 4G connectivity, such as the iPhone 5, according to Gregory, which will help increase the telco's marketshare of 4G customers.

“That is something that the other two [telcos] just can’t overcome at this stage. It’s really been good forward thinking, if you like, by Telstra to make sure that they’ve got access to the bands that they need for what they want to do and to make sure that they’ve got access to those bands not only in the city but also in the regional areas,” Gregory says.

He says 4G take-up could also be high in the initial stages of the technology rollout, but customers will notice performance changes as more customers join the technology.

"I think the key issue with 4G could be the up-take will be strong and people will find performance will degrade quickly. The other issue that has been raised is the rapid increase in demand for downloads and this will have a great effect on 4G. It will also lead to bill shock over the next six months until new protocols to protect customers kick in," Gregory says.

"I have recently written a couple of times that anything less than 3GB per month is a recipe for disaster."

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

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