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Telstra LTE Mobile Broadband Arrives For Everyone: Gizmodo Hands-On

Telstra first started trialling LTE back in May. Then business customers got their hands on the telco’s first LTE USB modems in August. Now, finally, the LTE love is open to all with the availabilty of Telstra’s dual-3G/LTE USB Modem, and they’re dubbing it a ’4G’ device. Gizmodo got our hands on one just a little early, and here’s what we think so far.

Even Telstra engineers at a pre-launch briefing on Monday had to admit that 4G in this case was more a marketing term than a technical effort; the 1800Mhz LTE that Telstra’s using isn’t, strictly speaking, 4G at all; that’d be LTE-A.

If the designation difference confuses you, Gizmodo’s guide to LTE should quell any uncertainty. Expect to see it branded as 4G all over the place anyway, in the same manner that folks think that 850Mhz 3G is “Next G”. Along with the advertising, you can expect some fairly bold speed claims from Telstra as well.

At the Monday briefing, Telstra’s Anthony Goonan, Director of Network Planning at Telstra told Gizmodo that LTE users could expect roughly double the throughput rates they see from existing dual-channel HSPA; typically that’ll be (according to Goonan) in a range of between 2-40Mbit for downloads. That’s quite a wide range. What isn’t quite as wide is the range of availability. At launch, it’s available in the CBD of eight capital cities as well as thirty regional centres.

Coverage

Click on the image above for all of Telstra’s LTE locations. It’s worth noting that for the purposes of defining the CBD, Telstra estimated that this would be around 5km of the centre of the city in capital cities, but only around 3km in regional areas. That’s a rough estimate, of course, as radio waves will go where they wish.

One thing that 1800Mhz radio waves won’t do quite as well as the 850Mhz waves that Telstra uses for its Next-G services is penetrate buildings. This is something that Telstra realises; when I queried them on this they stated that it shouldn’t be a problem in the CBD areas as they’re typically blanketed with a lot of Telstra signal regardless. While Telstra refers to LTE as a complimentary offering alongside existing 3G, whether heavy LTE usage inside buildings will stand up to its speed claims remains to be seen.

As the briefing finished, Telstra reps handed me a USB Modem to test. It’s a dual LTE/3G Sierra Wireless modem that handles switching between the network as it best sees fit. With reference to the issue that an 850Mhz signal might penetrate a building better than an 1800Mhz one, Telstra’s Warwick Bray, Executive Director of Mobile assured me that it’s possible to lock it to a single type if that suits you better.

More To Come

The new 4G Modem will replace Telstra’s existing Ultimate USB Modem (which managed a peak of 11.54Mbps in Gizmodo tests), and it’s not the only LTE project in the pipeline. Telstra also showed off an HTC LTE phone that they’re simply dubbing the ‘HTC 4G’, as well as stating that LTE Tablets are a likelihood for early next year. The one area they remained relatively mum on was whether they’d release an LTE WiFi Hotspot; it’s apparently only something they’re “considering”.

From a financial standpoint, Telstra’s stance on charging higher prices for its newer networks appears to be softening, as the 4G Sierra Wireless dongles will come (at least initially) on 24 month contracts but at the exact same price as the existing 3G plans. Telstra representatives also clarified a point of confusion relating to last week’s upgrade of 3G plans; if you want a new device you’ll have to recontract, but those already on a contract who are happy with their devices only need to ask to be shuffled up the data tiers.

Early Impressions

I’ve only had the briefest amount of time to test it within Telstra’s 4G cloud, so these are hardly entirely representative figures, as there’s really very few users on the LTE network. Within the walls of Gizmodo HQ, using Speedtest.net on a Macbook Air I managed an average ping of 36.5ms, 15.09Mbps download and 9.19Mbps upload.

Those aren’t bad figures, but they’re not knock your socks off excellent, either, at least from a download perspective; that’s faster than I’ve had any wireless service manage uploads by a quite significant factor.

Where it got interesting was on the train ride home; stopping at Milsons Point (still within that 5km radius of the CBD, although stretching it a little) and sitting on a train I recorded a ping of 38ms, but download of a whopping 49.34Mbps and upload of an impressive 16.61Mbps. As I passed through North Sydney station on the train the connection manager switched from LTE to 3G HSPA quite seamlessly; I wouldn’t have noticed had I not been deliberately watching it, but with it speeds dropped notably.By the time I got back to my own suburban office, I was down to 43ms ping, 2.62Mbps download and 2.06Mbps upload.

It’s early days for LTE in Australia; Vodafone’s still stating that it’ll offer LTE at some point this year, while Optus won’t have any consumer facing products unti April next year. I’ll keep testing the 4G Telstra Modem and write more on it soon.

More: Lifehacker’s Total Guide To Telstra’s New 4G LTE Network