VHA has at last re-committed to the expanding Australian LTE battleground that until now has been the sole province of Optus and Telstra. While new CEO Bill Morrow has been telegraphing an interest in the 4G space since his appointment, these hints have now coalesced into a definite rollout timetable that will see VHA introduce LTE next year – and, meanwhile, launch high-speed dual-channel HSPA+ in just a few months’ time.
Consumer business unit director Noel Hamill told CommsDay that the HSPA+ rollout, which the firm is branding as ‘3G+’, will use VHA’s existing 850MHz, 900MHz and 2100MHz spectrum, officially going live from September this year. The carrier expects it to deliver mobile data rates of up to eight times faster than those currently available.
Next year’s LTE rollout, meanwhile, will use the telco’s 1800MHz spectrum assets, just as with the 4G deployments already launched by Telstra and Optus; VHA is anticipating an enduser performance boost of up to 15x from the technology. Users will need to upgrade to newer devices to enjoy the speed improvements from both the 3G+ and LTE upgrades, although the overall network will still remain compatible with older hardware.
Hamill was keen to anchor the news in the broader context of VHA’s ongoing network upgrade program. “[The upgrades] are part of a larger network investment and focus for us as a business, and that includes building out the 3G 850MHz network, and replacing our base station sites with the latest 3G and 4G-ready single RAN equipment; we’ve done 5,500 out of 8,000 of those sites,” he said. “We’re also rolling out improved transmission, which is basically fibre and high-speed microwave; we’re out there enabling the network to support 3G+ and LTE.” VHA plans to install the new transmission kit and upgrade connections to the latest IP technology at “thousands” of base stations before year’s end.
“And of course, the Optus joint venture… will bring us to 96% coverage of the population,” added Hamill. He said that VHA had already embarked on the line card upgrades required to kick off the upgrade to 3G+.
LTE TIMEFRAMES: The news marks a solid re-commitment to 4G for VHA, which had fallen quiet on the topic since abandoning plans to launch commercial 1800MHz LTE by the end of 2011. However, despite announcing its return to the 4G fray, the firm has yet to lock in a precise timeframe.
“We’re just saying 2013 at this point,” said Hamill. “We’re going through a tender process, we’re just about to go to market on it; obviously the three primary vendors would be Huawei who are the incumbent, Ericsson, and Nokia Siemens Networks. And obviously we’re building the systems capability to support 4G LTE as well.” He added that it was too early for the carrier to give an indication of the total value of the tender up for grabs, or to indicate whether the work would go to a single vendor or a combination.
A key question at this point, however, is how much of an entrenched 4G user base Telstra and Optus – having launched LTE in September 2011 and April 2012 respectively – will be able to establish by the time VHA turns on the technology itself.
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