Australian 4G Frequencies Explained [Updated]

1800MHz? 2100MHz? 700MHz? What frequencies are Australian 4G networks on right now, and what does the future hold? Here's what you need to know.

Yesterday's iPad announcement included the promise of 4G LTE speeds, which got many folks excited about the prospects of a 4G-capable iPad; if that launched on March 16th, it'd become the second 4G-capable tablet in Australia after the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G.

There's just one problem; the chipset within the new iPad is LTE capable, but only on the 700Mhz and 2100MHz frequencies. This led to some debate — and plenty of confusion — about who's doing what with 4G frequencies in Australia. Here's what you can do right now, what you'll be able to do very shortly, and what the future holds, straight from the telcos themselves.

4G In Australia Right Now

There are only two networks offering 4G-branded products in Australia at the time of writing; Vividwireless offers a 4G WiMAX based product with, in our tests, less than stellar results.

Vividwireless is due to become part of the Optus empire in short order, but this has little to do with its WiMAX and much more to do with its pending spectrum licences. In any case, WiMAX isn't LTE, and it appears clear that the future of 4G in Australia will be LTE-based.

Right now, the only 4G LTE product available to consumers is Telstra's "4G" branded LTE; that's an LTE network running on an 1800MHz frequency. It's currently available on its USB modems, the HTC Velocity 4G and will in the near future come in hotspot form. For those keeping track, the use of 1800MHz means it's not compatible with the LTE functionality of the new iPad, although the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G certainly is; its speed is clearly the key selling point.

4G In Australia This Year

Telstra's committed to its 1800MHz 4G product right now, and it'll shortly have some competition in that space, as Optus is due to launch its 1800Mhz network in April. Chatting to an Optus spokesperson yesterday, the official statement regarding Optus' 4G plans at this time reads as follows:

Optus will be rolling out 4G services in the 1800MHz band from April 2012 to Newcastle, Port Stephens, the Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie areas. Optus 4G services will also be delivered to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth from mid-2012 with further expansion expected shortly after.

What of Vodafone? Despite spending billions deploying Huawei equipment to improve its ailing network, Vodafone appears to have distinctly cooled on 4G, with Vodafone CEO Nigel Dews stating recently that "We’re less inclined to do the aggressive talking about LTE".

That doesn't mean that Vodafone won't launch a 4G network this year, but it's anybody's guess as to when it will — and they're certainly happy to give first and second mover advantage to Telstra and Optus respectively.

What about 700Mhz?

It's widely tipped that 700Mhz LTE services will be the future of LTE in Australia, but the 700Mhz band is currently in use for analog TV broadcasts. They're due to be culled by 2013, freeing up the precious LTE-friendly 700Mhz spectrum, but who gets it? The process of divvying up the spectrum falls to the ACMA; it's indicated that the auction will take place later this year, with draft auction guidelines due later this month.

There's only one telco that's on the record as having done 700Mhz testing, and that's Optus. Again, speaking with Optus yesterday, they gave me the following statement:

"We recently tested 4G services on the 700MHz band in Bendigo, Victoria, the first carrier to successfully conduct a trial in this spectrum band. Early indications suggest that no Australian carrier will have access to the 700MHz band until 2015."

Update: Telstra's also provided me with a statement:

We’ve reframed our 1800MHz spectrum (previously used for 2G) to offer Australia’s first 4G LTE network

We intend to bid for additional spectrum in the 700MHz and 2600MHz bands that the government is planning to put up for auction at the end of 2012.

The 700MHz band has great propagation characteristics as it is a lower band like the 850MHz band we currently offer our Next G network on. The 700MHz band in the Asia Pacific region uses a different technical configuration than the 700MHz band used in the US. The 2600MHz band is likely to be one of the main 4G LTE bands used for international roaming.

Telstra is re-using its 2100MHz spectrum to add capacity to the Next G network in areas of high demand, so that customers can continue to enjoy the speeds and reliability they expect from this network.

So in other words, any 700MHz LTE equipment that you get now probably won't be LTE-functional in Australia for a couple of years, if then, and that's subject to what could be quite the bidding war. Although again, Vodafone may be a minor player here; CEO Nigel Dews was quoted regarding the digital dividend as follows:

"We will seriously go into our preparation for the digital dividend auctions and look expectantly at that process. But there’s a price for everything and you don’t buy anything that’s at the wrong price, you buy things at the right price and that’s what we’d be hoping to be able to do."

Will 4G LTE Gadgets Work On 3G?

In almost every case, you should expect a 4G-capable gadget of being capable of dropping down to 3G. There's nothing technically stopping a vendor from producing an LTE-only gadget, but it'd be a terribly shortsighted move, as even with the expansion of LTE services worldwide, 3G still has far greater coverage, and any gadget that limited itself to only LTE coverage areas would be rather limited in scope. The HTC Velocity 4G is a good example; in 4G coverage areas we saw some excellent speeds with it, and outside them it was still a solid 3G performer. That's what you should expect out of LTE-capable accessories, but it does pay to check upfront that this is so.


Comments

    It seems stupid to me that Apple aren't going to produce a new iPad for Australia's LTE netwrok(s). Phone manufacturers do it all the time, as shown with the new Nokia Lumia 800, why can't Apple?

      Imagine if apple did bring out a 1800Mhz version iPad later this year. They would seriously piss off(including me) all the early adopters of the new ipad. Apple would never do this!

        Apple would have no problem doing that. All that will happen is the true Apple fans will ditch their brand new iPad for an even newer iPad

          Didn't they release the iPad 2 like 9 months after the original? they don't care about their customers, none of these companies do.

        guess what happened....

          I was just about to say that...

      Because they are Apple. They don't make allowances for people, if you can't fit with what they want to give you, then too bad.

      The Lumia's just a 3G phone, though -- there's an awful lot more underlying 3G chipsets that use 850MHz, so that'd be a *much* simpler rework. Still a good move on Nokia's part, but not quite the same thing.

        Ultimately it is the same thing - tailoring your products for specific markets. 4G might be a bit harder but given the form factor, it should not be enough to stop you from doing it if you want to. After all, Samsung have done it in a smaller tablet. As Todd says, it is typical of the contempt Apple seem to have for their users.

          Relative dearth of 4G chipsets in the 1800MHz space and testing requirements doesn't equal "contempt", but then I'm sure you're well aware of that, really. After all, it's not like the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G came out here at the same time as in the US -- and that's down (at least in part) to the need to modify and test for 1800Mhz.

      It's not "stupid" at all considering how small and limited 1.8GHZ LTE is in Australia. They're not going to launch a product on a CBD based LTE network.

      The US carriers have had their LTE network running for over a year, with VZ covering an area that is close to the size of Optus's entire 3G network.

      As chipsets improve and the network expand, I am sure the next iPad will cover the other frequencies. A large number of LTE networks are still in the beta stage, with many still awaiting for the spectrum auctions.

      HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA is still very very fast and in my opinion 3.9G anyway.

        Sweden’s TeliaSonera, which rolled out the world’s first 4G network, also used 1800 MHz spectrum
        Britain does not have 4G yet but is in the process of following a European Union order to make 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum available for 4G, or LTE and WiMax use.
        Germany faces the same challenges, with Deutsche Telekom's 4G network deployed, for example, on 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz.

      Australia is a small market and as the article mentions in a couple of years 700MHz is going to be widely available here.

    I think it is stupid of Telstra to choose a band that is not that much used in the rest of the world. Take NextG as an example.

      Telstra's using what's legally available to it -- as is, as the article notes, Optus.

      1800mhz is the most commonly used band at this time for 4G.

      I think you’re stupid for not knowing what you’re talking about. Try doing some research. Unless of course your objective was to announce to the world that your an ignorant tard, in which case, Mission: Accomplished.

    what are they doing in Europe?

    Because Apple don't build variants for niche markets. You might think that's foolish, but they're making so much money with their strategies that they can burn $100 bills to heat Apple HQ, so I doubt they care what you think.

      Its not foolish, it simply shows how little Apple care about anything other than profit. Car makers make low-volume, unprofitable models because they love cars as much as their customers. Its why sheeple get so passionate about their favourite brands. OTOH, Apple treat customers like dirt and they still worship the brand. It beggars belief.

        I'm sorry,

        That analogy is bullshit.

        The only reason car makers still make cars in Australia is because the government is throwing cash at them.

        Often low volume cars cost a fair bit more than you run of the mill Camry

        If there is a line that is not profitable you can bet your house on it not being there for long. No company is a charity and are there to make money no matter what you believe.

          And if its not government laws or money that is driving unprofitable cars, its so they can have a waterfall effect. They may sell a few top end models at a loss, but the R&D can find its way into mainstream models in the future. They also act as the poster cars which while 99% of people may not be able to afford, may intice them to get the more mainstream models further down purely for brand recognition.

        Couldn't agree more MM
        DMJ, you make me rofl, re-read MM's comment

          Gah....

          Ok. Maybe a little half cocked, but what I said is still true about the car industry in AU.

      Yes they do, both china and mexico have region specific models

    Solid article Giz, really helpful, thanks for the info!

    What about the 2100 MHz band? Is anyone even looking at that?

      2100Mhz is being used very heavily by Optus, Voda, and (until August) Telstra* for 3G coverage in metro areas.

      * Telstra is exiting their arrangement with Voda to share 2100Mhz spectrum and towers, and is going all-850Mhz for 3G.

      It's possible that carriers may recycle their 2100Mhz spectrum, but not for a while until carriers can move people over to 850/900mhz 3G.

    I'll be interested in learning more about the 4G chip in the iPad. Surely Apple could custom iOS to include the 1800MHz frequency that other countries are running.

      Dan it has nothing to do with the operating system per se. It's the radio chip onboard that determines the frequencies the device uses. All the Apple bashers have failed to realise that it's not a simple matter.

      On another matter, I'm concerned about the comment in the article that the 700 MHz band that Oz will eventually get is going to be incompatible with the US 700 band. So yet another problem looming. Great.

        mail your ipad to apple with 50 bucks you get a new chip problem solved

        lol no denying that apple streatd the stupidity.. Typing this from my iPhone, but anyone with a clear mind knows Apple claims against Samsung was borderline childish and this mess would've been easily avoided

      It makes a lot of sense and it is like what nokia did a few years ago i had a nokia n95 and it was version 3 and that was for 850 mhz and version 1 was for 2.1 ghz and i can't see why apple didn't do that with LTE or make a world version ill be looking if the new iPhone 1.8 and 2.6 ghz and 700 mhz if it doesn't i'll look at a LTE phone

    thanks Alex, it's a good article...

    No-one seemed to latch onto the fact that Vodafone could actually be the big winner here. Vodafone has indicated it will be running HSPA+ this year which will effectively double the potential (notice I said potential not actual voda bashers) bandwidth available. This would place the 'new iPad' on vodafone as the fastest available in Australia.

    In reality, who knows, Voda need to solve their backhaul issues. At a recent Apple business lunch vodafone explained the data now represents 95% of their mobile network traffic.

      Voda can only go up, it seems, but the HSPA+ stuff is already being done by Telstra right now -- it's what the Velocity 4G and Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G drop down to outside of 4G areas, for example.

      Telstra is already on HSPA+. If Voda doesn't plan for LTE, it'll lose out in the long term as more LTE UEs come into the market. It'll once again be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    What about 2600Mhz spectrum? Who is using this one in Australia, then? Can't find any info about this.

    I am not sure what everyone is complaining about.... Even though the theoretical speeds are better on 4G compared to 3G, there are a lot of other factors that determine download speed. Most average users will not notice the difference... and the new iPad does 3G. As mentioned, 1800MHz is the most common band for LTE at the moment, as many operators already have a license for this band. The problem with 1800 is distance and building penetration (not good for rural areas). Many countries are trying to clear out the TV signals from the 700 MHz band. Once clear, 700MHz will be auctioned off and become the dominant global LTE band due to better propagation... In reality Apple is just thinking ahead...

      No I can assure you that they are not thinking ahead. If they are, they would want to support all the LTE frequency. It's the future.

        You're worng.

        Actually, since at this stage Australia really represents such a small percentage of global 4G usage, it would be foolish for them to sacrifice some of their profit margin just so some guy with his new iPad can get slightly (at this stage, anyway) faster download speeds. It all comes down to money.

    Good article. All Australian mobile networks with the growth of smartphones and tablets are seeing data represent 80%+ of traffic. YouTube and music streaming use much more that simple voice.

    One thing to consider is that LTE is a data only service, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is not yet available. So, for instance, the HTC Velocity uses 4G for data and 3G for voice calls. This is also the reason most 4G devices are data focused (eg laptop dongles, hotspots, tablets, etc).

    All the networks will offer HSPDA+ so will provide very good performance for devices like the iPad which is supporting a wide range of frequencies:
    LTE (700, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz). Coverage and availability is of course a different discussion.

    Vividwireless owns the licence for between 70 MHz and 100 MHz of 2.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum in every Australian capital city (except Hobart and Darwin). This is being used for more fixed broadband services rather than true mobile broadband services. Potentially Opus' purchase of Vividwireless is more about the future of NBN services than mobile 4G services.

    IMHO at the moment all the Australian 4G services should be considered trials until the final frequencies are confirmed on 700MHz and maybe 1800/2100MHz.

      The easiest way to get voice calls over LTE is have a Bigpond LTE wifi modem and have an app to your voip provider and it works very well and i have the Bigpond LTE wifi modem for my laptop and it works very well with the iPhone and the call quality is exelant and i can get upto 40 mbps up and down on the iPhone

    Europe is only clearing the 800MHz band AFAIK, as they don't use VHF for digital television and have 8MHz wide channels in UHF - making it near impossible for them to clear the 700MHz band as we've done.

    That means a European 4G LTE device will likely be 800/1800/2600, as 700MHz will still be full of TV there. So Australia's stuffed again.

    I dont know if this is possible or not so dont start going off your rails at me, but couldn't you just tune the LTE antenna to a different frequency with some sort of software? eg. Jailbreak or something?

      It's hardware.

        Correct. It is the chipset that has certsin frequencies. That is why some devices are dual band, tri, quad and now peta band for 3G & GSM. Another thing is the actual antenna too that is tuned specifacally for certain bands & some handsets are able to work better than others at certain frequencies. Software optimisation can only take you so far...

    The thing that sucks the most is the next iphone will probably use the same chip and once again no 4G for Australia.

      easy dont buy an iphone

        Funnily enough Samsung Galaxy SIII 4G & Apple iPhone 5 support exactly the same 4G bands in Australia.

        In short it's chipsets and not some plot by an evil Apple empire that some of you here imagine exists.

        Unless you want to assume Samsung is following the same fiendish plot as Apple - in which case have they copied it? LOL

        So if you think you shouldn't buy an iPhone over this then you shouldn't buy a Galaxy SIII either.

          There's plenty of examples of apple treating it's cusomers like dirt.
          And the isheep eat it up.
          It not only beggers belief, it $#!&$ me to tears as apple wants to destroy competition without making better products and isheep enable them to do this.

    Did you know that even LTE is not real 4g. The 4g standard states a 4g network can sustain speeds faster than 100mb/second. None of the current standards can reach this….

      The Telstra Network can reach over 100Mbps in certain places possible 300Mbps in two locations, the devices on the market are only CAT 3 so they are capable of delivering a theoretical 100Mbps.

      Well, they probably could achieve that if both the tower and backhaul were completely empty... Kinda like vodafone's LTE network at the moment...

    Is interesting that even in the us the 2 LTE700 networks are incompatible and require different models(for now).

    Australia is a smaller market, but I wonder why apple isn't offering a European LTE800/1800/2600 model?

    I also wonder whether Telstra could choose to use their 2100Mhz frequencies for LTE that's compatible with the iPad's 2100 AT&T lte, if they wanted to.

      The new iPad does not support LTE in 2100 MHz. What you see in that spec sheet is part of the US AWS band that AT&T plans to use for LTE in the future (Verizon will also use that band in future). The iPad 2100 MHz is not the 2100 band your see in Australia for WCDMA/UMTS.

    Did this Friday, but then Gizmodo broke...

    2G
    Telstra, Vodafone and Optus each operate a 2G GSM network at 900/1800MHz.

    3G
    Telstra and Vodafone/3 shares a UMTS network at 2100MHz. Telstra are ending their sharing agreement (VHA to keep).
    Telstra operates it's UMTS/HSPA network at 850Mhz (branded NextG)
    Optus operates a UMTS network at 2100Mhz, and will be rolling out at 900Mhz throughout 2012/2013.
    Vodafone will be rolling out 3G UMTS in major metro areas at 850Mhz throughout 2012/2013.

    4G
    Telstra operates is LTE network in major-metro areas at 1800Mhz
    Optus will be rolling out LTE in major metro areas at 1800Mhz throughout 2012/2013

    Refer to Mobile World Live - Coverage http://bit.ly/y6st9x

    Why did Telstra pick 850MHz for it's NextG Network? Because the spectrum was available to it with the closure of the CDMA network, 850Mhz gives coverage over a wider area than 2100Mhz, and it's what AT&T, the largest US carrier, uses.

    Why did Telstra pick 1800Mhz for it's 4G LTE Network? Because the spectrum was available to it with with the discontinuation of 2G services at 1800Mhz, and because they only intend on rolling it out to major metro areas (so a lower frequency isn't required just yet).

    Why didn't Telstra roll out it's network at 700MHz like AT&T in the US? Because Australia is currently using it to watch TV. Once we move to digital in full, the 700MHz band will be reserved and sold off by the ACMA for mobile broadband.

    The GSM Association is campaigning goverments internationally to set aside spectrum at 2.6GHz (referred to as the 'Capacity Band'). Refer to GSMA Band Overview http://bit.ly/wSqR2C

    For information regarding Australia's plan for radiofrequncy, refer to the ACMA's webiste http://bit.ly/wJ4FmE

    It's one thing to operate networks, but it's just as important to sell phones that are compatible, and it's the RF chip and antenna inside that dictates this.

    Broadcom and Qualcomm are two of the largest producers of mobile phone RF chips.
    - For a list of Cell chips produced by Broadcom, refer to http://bit.ly/A3LkCt
    - For a list of cell chips produced by Qualcomm, refer to http://bit.ly/xkmzV8

    However, as stated, it's not just the chip (or software) that define the operating frequencies, it's the on-board antennas that are tuned for specific frequencies, and no amount of software/firmware can change this. Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_length for an explanation.

      The 850 mhz was used for analog mobile phones then cdma used 850 mhz and then next g uses 850 mhz and Telstra used 850 mhz since the 1980's for its mobile networks and they have kept the same band since the 018 days i don't know what band the 007 analog mobile phones used compare the 04 mobile phone bands use since gsm in 1992 using 900 MHz then 1.8 ghz a few years later on gsm then LTE on 1.8 ghz and 2.1 ghz for the first 3g network in Australia

    I love my WiFi only iPad... ;-)

    The acma should turn off the analog tv this year before the band auction and the 700 mhz should be rolling out in areas where analog tv has been switched off in the uhf band and switch on the 700 mhz in the major cities around australia like Brisbane whare there is no uhf tv broardcasting in the 700 mhz band

    Let's face it, Crapple couldn't possibly care less about their customers. The symbol of a common dictatorship, along with their useless 'almost' 4G ipad, may not even be able to release the iFlop 5 due to LTE patent infringements. Just like those which they sued Samsung more than $1 Billion for. Their own ridiculous ignorance & greed will soon come to fruition & they'll then need to tap into that $100 Billion + surplus they have, as they're too damn greedy to share & insanely overcharge for out-of-date technology. Long live freedom of choice & technology that's actually from this decade. Basic things like Video Calling, front MP cameras, MicroSD cards, changeable batteries, more than 5 minutes battery life, etc etc.

      Apple won the court case - your point is moot.

      As I have mentioned above - Samsung & Apple have done exactly the same thing with their 4G phones and supported bands.

      So you can take your ignorant hate speech and apply it to Samsung if you have the integrity to be even handed or the intellect to be using logic.

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    What 4G frequencies should I look for when Buying an unlocked 4G WIFI modem. It is all very confusing. I am concerned that my modem will became redundant when the LTE 700 MHZ becomes available throughout Australia. Any help will be appreciated.

    I have not heard any mention of possible TV signal interference, in Europe there is considerable effort being put into preventing TV interference from 4G signals (see http://at800.tv/ for example). Is this going to be a problem here in Australia?

    Using GSM frequencies at 900 and 1800MHz in the roll out is likely to deliver a whole lot of health problems along with 4G; a lot of the research finding detrimental health effects was done at GSM frequencies.

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