4G In Australia Explained

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.


Welcome to Gizmodo's 4G Week: Everything you need to know about 4G in Australia. From the networks that do and don't support it, through to the devices you can use and the best deals out there.


A Brief History Of Speed

When 4G was first offered in Australia, there was only one network worth considering: Telstra. Since then, other networks have picked up the 4G baton and run with it, leading to greater competition in the market between the nation's three biggest telcos and a handful of mobile virtual network operators (MVNO). At the time of writing, all three major providers offer their own bespoke 4G services: Telstra, Optus and now Vodafone. Optus seized an opportunity in the market and decided to wholesale its 4G network offering. As of right now, iiNet, Virgin Mobile, Exetel and Vaya offer 4G data and/or voice services via the Optus 4G network.

The roll-out and adoption of 4G in Australia is almost as fast as the network itself.

After purchasing vividwireless back in Februrary, Optus was able to bring 4G services to its Newcastle testing ground, where 900 customers were issued devices to use over three months so the telco could stress test the network.

In July, Optus released 4G services to market for business customers, before the telco launched 4G services to consumers. Optus' 4G network runs on the 1800MHz frequency.

Optus' hero devices at launch included the 4G Samsung Galaxy S III and a Huawei Wi-Fi Hotspot device. The vaunted iPhone 5 then launched with 4G support on Optus before a steady stream of devices began to invade the telco's 4G offerings.

Optus' products are using the 1800MHz frequency, and while the network will run on many other unlocked handsets that have that band enabled, Optus has said that it will not offer technical support to third-party devices brought in from elsewhere.

Right now, the only other 4G LTE product available to consumers is Telstra's "4G" branded LTE; that's an LTE network running on an 1800MHz frequency.

Virgin Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) of Optus, therefore, it announced that it, too, would be offering 4G services on the same 1800MHz frequency with the same hero handset — the Samsung Galaxy SIII 4G.

Telstra, meanwhile, kicked off its 4G product base with a USB modem; that was followed up with its first 4G phone, the HTC Velocity 4G; then followed the Galaxy Tab 4G, Samsung Galaxy S II 4G, Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G, HTC Titan 4G, HTC One XL, Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi Pre-Paid Hotspot, the Samsung Galaxy S III 4G and the highly anticipated Nokia Lumia 920 and the incoming HTC 8X; you can read our thoughts on those particular products by clicking on each link.

All of Telstra's LTE products, like Optus', use the 1800Mhz band; while that's the band that European providers will use, it's critically not the band used by LTE providers in the US, although that market is also muddied by the fact that 4G had been used for a variety of technologies; not just LTE and WiMAX but also 850MHz 3G — the same stuff that Vodafone and Telstra both offer as "3G" (or in Telstra's case, "NextG") products. It's also worth pointing out that LTE is at the moment a data-only product; Voice over LTE is not yet part of the equation, so 4G doesn't do anything particular for voice calls.

4G In Australia Right Now

Telstra's committed to its 1800MHz 4G product right now and for the forseeable future. Between now and Christmas, Telstra has also pledged to roll-out 4G coverage to 85 per cent of the nation's population. It's also experimenting with a bunch of other technologies to make 4G faster, better and less congested.

Telstra is set to add the 900MHz frequency band into its existing 4G network offerings to complement the 1800MHz spectrum it already has. That means less congestion and better coverage transition throughout the nation when it's deployed.

The 900MHz part of the network will be used to improve coverage in rural areas, while improving what Telstra is calling “depth”. Presumably that means in-building signal penetration.

Telstra plans to issue 4G device firmware updates where applicable to make hardware compatible with the new 900MHz network spectrum, while the telco works with Sierra Wireless as a hardware partner to issue a dedicated 900MHz device around the middle of the year. Devices like the Nokia Lumia 920 are already 900MHz-ready, while the BlackBerry Z10 and the Sony Xperia Z — coming soon — will be 900MHz ready out of the box, too.

Also on the 4G network, Telstra added that it would start trialling network technologies known as LTE-A (or LTE Advanced) and LTE-B (or LTE Broadcast). These are two technologies that Telstra is experimenting with for a future deployment, with the telco’s network execs saying that the company needed to understand these specifications for when they might be needed in future.

LTE-A is a system that lets the telco combine both 1800MHz and 900MHz spectrum to create one network stream. When someone moves deeper into a rural area, they shift from being on the larger spectrum over to the 900MHz spectrum to ensure consistent coverage. LTE-B, meanwhile, is designed for more effective video and media deployment around the network so that people watching or using media content doesn’t create a whole mess of congestion. Imagine for a moment 500 people all watching the same broadcast of a sports game over the 4G network on the same radio base station. With ordinary LTE, all of those users would be crushed under their own weight. On LTE-B, however, content is pushed to the tower to turn it into a broadcast-style system where the users would hook onto the one stream rather than consuming all of the tower’s network capacity. Telstra said this would have benefits for not just media broadcasts, but also machine-to-machine communications as well as files that need to be downloaded by a lot of folks at once.

Telstra also plans to bust congestion in the cities on its networks by rolling out smaller cell networks called Heterogenous Networks, or HetNets. These so-called HetNets will be used to deploy more coverage to densely populated areas and large events.

Optus is committed to rolling-out 4G coverage in other cities as soon as its 3G refarming operations are completed there first. Sydney, Newcastle, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra all currently support Optus 4G, with the carrier gradually rolling-out the fast network to the rest of the nation later in the year.

Vodafone meanwhile is the latest player into the 4G arena, turning on its super-fast service in the last few months, almost two years behind other major players.

Vodafone's killer feature is the amount of spectrum it has to play with in the market. The amount of contiguous spectrum you have available to customers equals the amount of head-room and therefore speed and capacity you're able to offer on your network. Vodafone has double the contiguous spectrum when compared to other carriers, making its 4G faster in certain areas. Our tests of the 4G have found it can go up to 100Mbps in certain areas.

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 the end of the year, freeing up the precious LTE-friendly 700Mhz spectrum, but who gets it?

Telstra, Optus and TPG Internet have collectively parted with almost $2 billion to secure spectrum in the 700MHz and 2.5GHz bands. The digital spectrum auction, also known as the Digital Dividend by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is the sell-off of spectrum once used for analogue TV services in Australia running in the 700MHz band, as well as the sell-off of spectrum in the 2.5GHz band. These services are to be used by telcos for 4G services going forward.

Having a bunch of contiguous spectrum is pretty advantageous for pushing out faster 4G services. Just ask Vodafone: its upcoming 4G network is running on 20MHz of contiguous spectrum and the results definitely speak for themselves.

The Digital Dividend has been a secret, silent auction happening behind the scenes for the last few months, but finally the results have been announced.

Telstra parted with a whopping $1.3 billion for spectrum, securing two 20 MHz spectrum blocks in the 700MHz band and two 40 MHz blocks in the 2.5GHz band.

Optus was the second largest spender, parting with $649 million for two 10 MHz blocks in the 700MHz band and two 20MHZ spectrum blocks in the 2.5GHz band.

It had long been rumoured that TPG would also throw its hat in the ring for spectrum, pointing to potential investment in its own bespoke mobile service (currently TPG is an MVNO for Optus).

Those rumours were confirmed by the ACMA, who revealed that TPG Internet had spent $13.5 million for two 10MHz blocks of spectrum in the 2.5GHz band.

In total, the government netted $1.96 billion in the spectrum auctions, and only two 15MHz blocks of spectrum in the 700MHz band went unsold.

It's unclear exactly what the telcos plan to do with their new spectrum, but it's pretty clear that we'll see new 4G services spring up using the services some time in the new year as the switch-over from analogue TV to digital TV occurs.

Telstra has come out and told the market what it plans to do with its spectrum:

The spectrum will be used to enhance our network to help support extraordinary demand growth for mobile services and data. With the 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum we will be able to deliver faster speeds, more capacity and expansive wide area coverage of 4G LTE technology on our Next G network.
The low-frequency nature of 700MHz means the mobile signal can travel relatively longer distances, which is ideal for improving the services we can offer to customers in rural and regional areas. It also means better inbuilding coverage in metro and suburban areas.
Together with ongoing investment in our wireless network, which will total $1.2 billion in 2012-13 Financial Year, and the application of next generation LTE-Advanced 4G technology that we announced earlier this year, the additional spectrum will help ensure we continue to deliver Australia’s leading mobile network for our customers.

No surprises there, but the more you know.

And Optus has a statement out now, too:

The spectrum Optus has acquired in the 700 MHz band will provide stronger 4G coverage across both metropolitan and regional Australia, allowing us to expand our 4G services to more customers than ever before.
The additional spectrum purchased in the 2.5 GHz band, when combined with our already substantial holdings in 2.3 GHz, will enable Optus to provide unparalleled network capacity for 4G data services to our metropolitan customers.

The short form of this is pretty simple; if you buy a 700Mhz capable LTE phone or gadget right now, it won't work on Australian 4G networks for a couple of years — and even then, nothing is guaranteed.

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. The same goes for the Telstra 4G Pre-Paid Hotspot, and the Optus 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. That's what you should expect out of LTE-capable accessories, but it does pay to check upfront that this is so.

Tomorrow: We round up every 4G-capable handset in the country, and tell you if it's worth buying...

Image credit: Shutterstock


Comments

    Great article. Thanks Alex.

    Thanks for clearing that all up.
    (Now go off and needle Motorola about when the Milestone 4 might be available for use in Australia!)

    yeah, that 97% coverage thing they talk about is not entirely factual, what they don't say is about 50% has top quality connections, the rest is divvied up between good connections, ok connections bad connections, terrible connections, and no connections (you know that other 3%). for example a majority the area around Adelaide's northern suburbs unless you are standing next to one of the mobile towers, the best you'll get is a fluctuating 3 bars or less. so lets think about upgrading that AND the interlinks between the towers and exchanges then let the government get off their asses to actually improve our IT infrastructure, I've heard it said multiple times from multiple people, "Australia is a 1st world country with 3rd world infrastructure" We need to change this.

    Geez, forget 4G , how about some reliable 3G for a start? Anywhere outside of Sydney Metro heading west is a waste of time in regards to 3G reliability... it could be 1Gbps for all it would matter if you cant keep a connection.

    Good article though, clarifies the point.

      I'm with Telstra and the only place I've been where I had no coverage at all was in the underground train tunnels around the city (before they put the new antennae in). And I live out west too. Telstra's 3G (3G+/NextG) is very reliable, it's the other carriers that were lagging behind, particularly Vodafone.

      The data congestion to 3G is what makes 4G even more important for all the Telcos. Telstra had identified that on 3G 1 data connection is equivalent to 16 calls potential calls. By rolling out successful 4G it will minimise congestion of the 3G allowing non-4G capable phones to access the data streaming. I'm with Telstra and very happy so far with their coverage. Until now there is only 1 small area in Perth that I always have trouble accessing 4G. Otherwise, many of my friends are jealous of my coverage and my awesome data speed :)

    Also, the US implementations of 700MHz will be incompatible with the Australian implementation, because within the 700MHz range the Americans use different uplink/downlink channels compared to what Australia will have.

    Even within the USA, the AT&T and Verizon 700MHz LTE networks are not inter-compatible.

      Just to elaborate on this point; the 700Mhz range(s) deployed in Australia -MAY- support devices from different carriers around the would depending on which operating band(s) is(are) decided on when they're divvying it up here... There's a stupid amount of bands currently in existence though, check them out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-UTRA#Frequency_bands_and_channel_bandwidths

      That's interesting to learn. I assumed the handset interoperability issue between Verizon and AT&T was solely because Verizon uses CDMA for voice.

      So an AT&T-bought 700Mhz LTE phone, wouldn't operate on Verizon's 700Mhz LTE network? Seems strange that manufacturers wouldn't build in support for all uplink/downlink channels in use by all carriers on that particular frequency in the US.

        At the moment it appears to be the case. Indications so far point to US uplink/downlink channels in the 700MHz band being incompatible not only with each other (AT&T/Verizon), but also with Australian ones.

        Australia may have compatibility with either one of AT&T or verizon frequency bands, but even then, we're still a long way off from a 4G device that is universally compatible. If we use the same channels as Verizon, it's as good as being incompatible, because the rest of the communications on their network are CDMA.

    What's a Bieber?

    ok so what's the point of 4g, how will it benefit us?

    I can understand that download speeds will be faster, so faster internet, but what else?

    It seems that it won't improve voice quality? Will it improve reception? Personally for me I'm not so interested in mobile internet connectivity as I don't require it and 3g has been fine for me generally, but reception has been my major bugbear

      It's only data for now. Your 4G device will switch to 3G mode to make voice calls and SMS. You'll no doubt eventually be able to use 4G for everything, but for a while yet.

      The benefit of 4G is to reduce the congestion/bottleneck of our 3G network. Hopefully once Telstra increase their 4G coverage, we will experience better 3G coverage for both phone calls and SMS.

      To address your questions...
      1) It seems that it won't improve voice quality?
      Voice quality will not increase. However you will have less drop out rate and less noise in calls. To which, I guess you can also say voice quality will increase :)

      2) Will it improve reception?
      Yes definitely. By moving all the 3G data users to 4G, this will free-up a lot of frequency slots that can be used for phone calls and SMSs. As mentioned in my previous post, for one 3G data user, they occupy the same space as sixteen voice call slots. So by moving one 3G data user to 4G, Telstra will free up 16 available slots for other users to call their loved ones. This is a great improvement in my opinion. So I am really excited for the 4G network.

    Great article, thanks Alex.
    I have a question, that I'm hoping you can help me with.
    Korea has a model of the Galaxy S3 ,the SHV-E210K GALAXY SIII LTE with quad core and 2GB of RAM.
    It's specs say its compatible with an 850mhz freq and it also transmits on a 4G freq of LTE 1800mhz. My question is are these freq the same as Aust next G /3G and Telstra 4G ? As I'm in the market for a new phone and if I can will try to sorce one from Korea ,
    Any help or info is much appreciated ,
    Thanks again.

    @one3
    I've actually been looking into the SHV-E210K too. From the reports I've been hearing off XDAdevs it works on Telstra's 4G. A couple of people were saying that it doesn't work on 3G because the frequencies are different; don't listen to them. Its primary radio supports GSM at 850/900/1900Mhz and UMTS at 850/900/1900/2100Mhz. That covers both of Telstra's 3G "Next G" bands (850 and 2100 UMTS) and both of Optus's 3G bands (900 and 2100 UMTS)
    The biggest problem at the moment is actually getting one out of Korea! Haven't managed yet...

    @one 3, @jack...

    i ordered an shv-e210k; it arrives tomorrow. i'll let y'all know if it works in Telstra 4g...

    @jack, @one

    been playing with the setings all day. got a terribly slow 1g connection via 'GSM all' which was 0.018mbps down. I then switched to 'wcdma all' which gave me a good 3G connection of 6.8mbps down/3.5mbps up. Can't connect to 4g however...when i switch setting to 'LTE', the phone will not connect to the network. i keep getting an error 'unable to connect. try later'

      Just a quick question. Are you in the 4G zone? Because it is no use to pray for 4G when you are not within the coverage. I did that same mistake as well when I bought my Galaxy S4. Hoping that I magically get 4G despite my area is rural and doesn't have the coverage.

      However, just a month ago Telstra included the 4G capability in our area and it has been nothing but sweet 30Mb/s average data stream :)

      I just wish that mobile data is cheaper, because the youtube streaming is flawless on 4G.

    Thanks for your reply Jack & Arh. Great info Jack, look forward to your next post Arh. Should be an awesome unit.

    Sorry if this posts twice...though I posted earlier, but I don't see it up now.

    Got the device, playing with it all day. It connects to Telstra's WCDMA 3G network no problem (speeds of 6.8mbps down, 3.5mbps up). It also connects to a 1g network with speeds of 0.018down (this is what it defaulted to though obviously not preferred). I CANNOT get it to connect to 4g. I keep getting "Unable to connect. Try later" when i switch to LTE mode via the "secret menu" and try to manually join the Telstra network.

    final verdict...SHV-e210k can connect to Telstra 3g 2100mhz network (which is being shut off 31/8/2012...so this is only valid for a few weeks) and their new 4g network. It also connects to their old and very slow 2g network.

    HOWEVER!! It seems you cannot get voice when connected to 4g as you force the phone into LTE only, and there is no voice over LTE technology in Australia. So if you want to be able to send/receive calls, you have to be in automatic, which as of now pushes you to 3G, but after 31/8/12 will put you on ancient 2G.

    So, in conclusion, I would get Optus with this phone as their 3g network is 2100mhz so it will work voice and data.

      I am not sure where you get your data's from, but there is a few biased inaccuracies in your post. In Australia, LTE does not support voice. It is a data only service. Once you want to make a call, your phone will do a handover to Telstra NextG network so you can seamlessly make your phone call or SMS.

      It is definitely a lie that you blabbered about the Telstra 3G 2100 MHz network is planned to shut off by 31/08/2012 <---- 2012? Excuse me, we are in 2013 now. But nonetheless, Telstra NextG (3G) has been their biggest success, with loads of customers on their service, I highly doubt they will risk shutting down their biggest cash cow. So please get your facts right before deluding the gullibles.

      In addition, as you stated, if Telstra 3G fails, they will drop you down to the ancient 2G network. However, if you are on Optus 3G, if they fail there are no safety net for Optus to fall to. Kapoot, your call will be dropped. Nada. Gone!

      Optus and Telstra both owns 3G on 2100MHz, both are equally good :) The choice is up to individual users but as a long time Telstra customer. I have nothing to say but great coverage and this 4G roll out got me pumped up :)

    So are optus / telstra 4g devices if unlocked cross-compatible?

      Theoretically, yes, because they both run on the same frequency. This hasn't been the case in the past with 3G and even 2G as they ran on different frequencies. But 4G most definitely should.

        Michael, all carriers in Australia use either 900 and/or 1800 MHz 2G and all GSM phones ever sold here support these. There was never a compatibility issue for 2G GSM in Australia.

    Didn't they bring out a 3G enabled iPad 3?

      The iPad 3 WiFi+Cellular model works with 3G (still has the 3G chipset, but connects fine to the Australian carrier 3G networks)

        Sorry, meant to say 'still has the 4G chipset' but connects fine to the Aussie 3G networks.

      Works ok with 3G services in other countries too. I have one in Singapore - hooked it up to a M1 monthly plan and the 3G works; the network is patchy but that's Singapore's shitty 3G service overall.

    See, now, revisiting old stories is one of the many ways that Gizmodo (and the sister-sites) is awesome. Keep up the good work =D

    The article was going so well, until it mentioned the possibility of the 700 Mhz LTE iPad3 working on LTE in Australia. This will not happen.

    700 Mhz LTE is broken into sub-bands, current chipsets such as the iPad3 can only do one of these. THere are actually 2 different hardware models of the iPad3 sold in the USA, one for Verizon and one for AT&T. They are not the same! We get the AT&T model here in Australia.

    3 main 700 MHz LTE configurations:

    1. USA - Verizon 700 MHz LTE
    2. USA - AT&T 700 MHz LTE
    3. APAC - Asia Pacific 700 MHz LTE which is what Australia will use

    The iPad3 with its 700 MHz LTE support does not support the APAC 700 MHz LTE configuration. So forget about it - until more flexible chipsets come out.

      Gotta love the US cellular market :)

      Is there anywhere that explains the technical differences between these three networks? Is the difference physical (different sub-bands inside the 700MHz band), or logical (different authentication/transmission protocols)?

        It's more likely to work with Australia ,USA and Canada will be using 700 MHZ in the end and it will be like 1.8 GHz with most country's that will use and the 2.6 GHz is used in some parts of Europe and they are getting 800 MHZ instead of 700 MHZ. We will wait until the 700 MHZ and 2.6 GHz licence spectrum is auctioned off eather at the end of the year or the first half of 2013 for LTE extra bands. I have herd that Telstra wants to use there part of the 900 MHZ for LTE with the 700 MHZ and 1.8 GHz and 2.6 GHz will be used in high traffic areas for LTE.

      Thank you Troy for the explanation.
      Your detailed answer/analysis explains well.

      Does the Samsung Galaxy S III (4G LTE) comes with a chipset that supports 4G LTE (1800 MHz) in Australia? Will that work on Telstra's 1800 MHz?

      How do the mobile carriers use the GSM frequency 1800MHz for 4G LTE in Australia.

      Are we using HSPA+ for Voice calls and Data in Australia when we use a phone in 3G mode?

      I would really, really appreciate if you could clarify the above? Thanks heaps in Advance.

      The 700 Mhz that is used in the USA would more likely work when roaming with the LTE modems that will support 700 Mhz and it's like Telstra's Next G network and the network does work with USA cell phones when they roam in Australia. My parent's have friends that have gone to the USA and there phones work on the USA 850 Mhz frequency's and they looked up witch networks use the 850 Mhz band and the phone worked very well and they use was unlocked.

    How do I tell if my GSIII is 4g network compatiable?
    If its not, can I get a swapover from optus? (Im on an optus plan)

      If u got it more than 2 days ago, it aint 4G

      Ask them.

      4g Model comes out in Two Weeks.. You would have 3g Model..

      I dont think Optus would allow you to swap it... Best thing is to Sell your 3g model on ebay and buy a 4g model from optus or Kogan. You have to pay more out of the pocket but atleast you will have the 4g Model.

      ONly thing to watch out for is battery life on the 4g model. 4g Eats Battery Life...

      My Telstra GS3 has an engraving that says 4G enabled on the back cover. My Telstra GS4 has Telstra logo and a LTE logo on the back cover. So take a look whether you have any of those signs on your mobile? The other thing you can check is your model number, that will tell you whether you have 4G or not.

      It its model (Menu --> Settings --> About Device --> Model number) is GT-I9300, it's the international version and it's not an LTE device.

      Mine says GT-I9305T, where 9305 indicates LTE and T for Telstra. If yours says GT-I9305 then most likely it's 4G enabled.

    Any chance Vodafone had of stopping the flow of customers off their network onto Optus and Telstra just vanished. Stick a fork in vodafone, they are fully cooked.

    What does LTE stand for?

      Long Term Evolution

        Yes but what does that mean? It'll be a long time before networks evolve to meet customer needs?

          LTE is just a name to represent 4G, the next evolution to mobile data package transfer standard. Just think of it as a faster data protocol. The name is just a fancy term to make it less boring :P

    Anyone have experience with Optus 4g going through the city circle tunnels?

    I can't wait to have my cells fried by high power and high frequency microwaves :D

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRLSPWviyzQ

    Voda will not access the Optus 4G network (I'm someone who would know).

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now