2015 is going to be a pretty big year if, like most of us, you use a smartphone or tablet every day. Everything is going to get a whole lot faster, and you'll be able to use 4G in more places around the country. Here's what Australia's top three telcos have to show off in the next 12 months.
We first found out about Telstra 4GX way back in October of last year, but as of January 1 this year it's finally happening. The Telstra 4GX 700MHz rollout has officially kicked off around metropolitan and regional areas around the country, and the biggest Aussie telco has some big plans for the new network. 4GX covers a much wider area than Telstra's existing 900MHz and 1800MHz networks, so if you're a regular long-distance commuter or traveller then Telstra should remain your number one choice.
4GX is fast, too. Telstra bought a big chunk of 700MHz spectrum, more than it owns of any other frequency spectrum, and what that means is faster downloads and uploads and lower lag. To use 4GX, though, you'll need a compatible smartphone. Both the Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus support the 700MHz 4G frequency that Telstra's 4GX is based on, as does almost any new mid- or high-end smartphone or tablet like the Sony Xperia Z3 or LG G3 or Samsung Galaxy S5. That means if you've bought a smartphone already within the last year or so, and you're a metropolitan Telstra customer, there's a pretty good change you'll already be running on 4GX when you're in any built-up area.
4GX isn't the end of Telstra's plans for this year in mobile data, though. It has switched on 4G Advanced (or LTE-Advanced, or carrier aggregation) for any site that has 4GX switched on, so if you have a brand new smartphone like the Huawei Ascend Mate7 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, you will get ridiculously fast 4G download speeds — we're talking in the region of 150Mbps, three times as fast as any other Aussie network.
Optus is in the middle of a massive 700MHz 4G rollout across the country, the mobile network spectrum it paid $650 million for in 2013. Australia's second largest telco is calling its next-gen network 4G In More Places — it's a bit of a wordy title, but it gets the point across that you'll be able to use your smartphone or hotspot or tablet in more places on Optus' fast 4G.
Head over to Optus's mobile data network coverage tracker and you'll see a bunch of green and purple splotches to represent the 3G and 4G data coverage in your area. Click on that 3 Month or 6 Month checkbox to show off the 4G data network expansion currently taking place around the country, and you'll see a new red area — that's the future 4G In More Places. It covers a far wider area than the current 4G
Optus' 4G In More Places coverage rollout is still ongoing, but as the year progresses it'll get larger and larger — you might just wake up one morning and find your smartphone blazing through those Facebook posts and Twitter updates. By mid-year, you'll notice the Optus network speeding along, as long as you have a supported 4G 700MHz smartphone. Since you'll only find 700MHz on relatively new phones, that's a great reason to upgrade.
Vodafone in 2015 is all about the low-band. We're specifically talking about the 850MHz frequency that Vodafone used to use for its 3G network, but has now re-farmed partially to offer extra 4G speed and distance. The promise that Vodafone made was that by the end of 2014, it would cover 95 per cent of Australia's metropolitan population with its new 4G network, so if you're in any major city around Australia your phone should be already switching to 4G 850MHz wherever possible.
In reality, 850MHz isn't really about speed — although there will be an element of that, since it's extra bandwidth and capacity on the fastest possible mobile network that Voda is running. It's about coverage, and since 850MHz is a relatively low-frequency band of the mobile telecommunications spectrum, its wavelength means it has far superior in-building penetration compared to Vodafone's existing 4G.
You will see better speeds, though, as long as you're on a device that supports the 850MHz 4G band. Vodafone's own Pocket Wi-Fi 4G hotspot doesn't support the band, and neither does its 4G dongle, but basically any modern smartphone includes 4G 850MHz, like the Sony Xperia Z3, LG G3 or Samsung Galaxy S5 — certainly more smartphones, and cheaper ones too, than support the 700MHz frequency used by Optus and Telstra's new networks.
Low-band 4G means that if you're a Vodafone customer, you'll see that little 4G symbol in more places around the city or suburb that you live in. Extra range and high-speed coverage is a very good thing, and given that has been a valid criticism of the company in the past, this should be the year that Vodafone kicks a lot of goals.