What Is 'Category 9' 4G?

As much as we might like to complain about our mobile internet coverage and the speed of our connections, Australia's mobile data networks are actually world class. Along with Korea and Sweden, Australia leads the way in the adoption and take-up of new super-fast 4G LTE-Advanced standards — and the latest is Category 9, a fancy frequency-meshing network capable of 450Mbps downloads.

The impetus for Category 9 LTE-Advanced in Australia actually comes from third-party devices, rather than big investments in the network itself — namely that shiny new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ announced overnight in New York.

Category 9 is the successor to Category 6, itself the technical successor to Category 4. It all centres around 4G mobile network frequencies, spectrum allocation, and upload plus download speeds — Telstra has detailed the differences on its Exchange blog today.

Here's a bit of background; in the past, LTE Category 4 used the full potential of (up to) a 20MHz chunk of contiguous mobile network frequency spectrum, and promised theoretical data transfer speeds of up to 150Mbps download and 50Mbps upload. In the real world, we see best-case speeds of around 50Mbps and 35Mbps uploads, with rate limits and network overhead coming into play.

LTE Category 6 takes one chunk of spectrum, and another different chunk of spectrum, and welds them together to effectively double the bandwidth available and therefore double download speeds — theoretically 300Mbps downloads, although uploads (for most users, much less important) remain at 50Mbps. In Telstra's case it relies, in part, on the telco's 4GX 700MHz spectrum allocation, along with the 1800MHz that it has used for 4G for some time now. Cat 6 is available in some metro areas, and in testing we've seen real-world download speeds of 150Mbps and uploads still around the 35-50Mbps mark.

Category 9 LTE-Advanced is the logical continuation of that idea — it doesn't weld together just two 4G mobile spectrum bands, but three. And that means theoretical download speeds of 450Mbps, with the potential for upload speeds to be higher as well at 75Mbps or thereabouts. To do this, you actually have to have the spectrum allocation to play with, and Telstra is using that 4GX 700MHz plus its 1800MHz and higher 2600MHz frequency all at once. Real world speeds will be interesting to see, but I'd be confident of seeing 200-plus-Mbps downloads and hopefully true 50Mbps uploads. Coverage areas, for what it's worth, will only likely be limited to the densest inner-city and metropolitan areas at least for the first couple of months and years.

It actually makes a lot of sense for the telcos to implement Category 9, and to buy up a wide range of spectrum to get there. As a general rule, the lower the frequency of the spectrum the longer-ranged it is, with better building penetration and therefore a wider coverage area. Higher frequency spectrum has a larger capacity of users and of overall data throughput. With a combo of low, middling and high frequency spectrum allocation — like the 700, 1800 and 2600MHz that Telstra is using for Category 9 — a telco can achieve good coverage, fast speeds and the holy grail of ultra-fast speed in selected coverage-overlapping areas.

The first Category 9 devices will drop in Australia later this year — unless a competitor swoops in first, that'll be Samsung with its Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+. Importantly, the network infrastructure is already in place — it's almost just a matter of flicking the switch.

There's also a Category 9-rated LTE-Advanced mobile hotspot on the way from Netgear, according to Telstra — and from looking carefully at the Speedtest screenshot that the telco has shared, it looks like it'll be the first in the AirCard 8XX series hotspot family, and may be called the 853S or 863S.

Whatever it is, we'll know "in the next couple of months". Telstra has teased 11 hours of battery life, as well as a data usage meter and up to 10 devices connected simultaneously over Wi-Fi a la the Wi-Fi 4G Advanced II, also known as the Netgear AirCard 790S.

We're getting in touch with Vodafone and Optus to ask how their LTE-Advanced plans are going with Category 6, which Telstra is already in the early stages of rolling out to metropolitan areas, and whether they have any concrete plans for Category 9 on the horizon.

Update: Optus has Cat 6 and Cat 9 infrastructure in place too. In fact, it has the world's first using both FDD and TDD LTE distribution methods: "Optus’ network supports Cat 6 devices in all capital cities, bar Perth, and 20 regional centres.

"In terms of Cat 9, we have capability in select suburbs in Newcastle already ahead of the availability of the new Cat 9 devices, and have plans to provide the capability in the Melbourne CBD in early September. We expect to announce additional capital cities in the new year."

[Telstra]


Comments

    How does mobile data prices compare with the rest of the world out of curiosity?

    I still don't understand how Australia can have a world class 4G network yet our broadband is still sub standard.

      The irony is that if Australia had a solid cable network, then spectrum currently used for non-mobile broadcasting could actually be used to expand mobile networks, given the similar bands the two operate in.

      You can bet if Telstra were allowed to own the NBN outright it would be built already

        And it would be priced well out of the reach of consumers. I remember what they did with their ISDN build-out.

        Us plebs were stuck with ADSL instead, artificially capped at 1.5Mbps. Until reseller ISPs gave up waiting for improvements and installed their own DSLAMs, becoming competitors instead.

          Hey i didnt say it was a good solution I just know how much money they throw at initiatives if they can own it and earn a mint off it!!!

          Source: Ex Employee - Operations

            Oh I believe you, there's much money to be made if you're allowed an unrestrained monopoly, and I'm sure Telstra would love to invest in that (they did try, a few years back, but Coonan said no). Not so great for consumers though.

            Still wouldn't help regional/rural customers, either. There's far less incentive for Telstra to supply them, given the higher costs and lower RoI. Hence the need for the National part of NBN.

              Im happy with where its at... Mainly because i moved to an area with FTTP build going on... Got my letter from Fulton Hogan two weeks ago to give them authority to install the line build, PCD and NTD. Lol cant wait!

              hmmm we have the best mobile network in the world (well at least top 5) and it has been allowed in what is a pretty much unregulated market. NBN whilst helping my country brethren is not going to give me the bandwidths I want any day soon.

              They should deregulate it and compensate the carriers for investing in country areas just like they do with the black spot funding in mobiles.

      It probably comes down to the geography of Australia. Sticking a cell tower somewhere to provide fast mobile reception is probably cost-effective enough. Installing thousands of kilometres of cable, not so much.

      The answer to that is Sol Trujillo.

      When he was Telstra CEO he backed the development of a high speed mobile network (Telstra's 'Next G' 3G network), which has since progressed to 4G. The venture has paid off for Telstra, however it came at the expense of fixed line broadband development. As a result we have world class mobile network, but our broadband is still a dogs breakfast.

    Cat9? A pipe dream, can't get cat4 speeds now. The big T said it congestion!
    How did you get the speed? Easy one handset on one tower!

      I got 150Mbps/35Mbps on my Galaxy Note 4, and then my Galaxy S6 Edge, in Alexandria in Sydney - indoors, bottom floor of an apartment building, surrounded by a bunch of concrete, with four bars of strength. Not even remotely ideal conditions!

      When the cells have capacity, you can get the speed - it's just congestion getting in the way.

        It's always congestion getting in the way - that's the whole problem with wireless.

        And with spectrum aggregation using all three bands simultaneously, saturation will come three times faster.

        Edit: in the article it said you were getting "uploads around the 35-50MBps mark." Guessing that's a typo, and you weren't seeing uploads at double the speed of your downloads..

        Last edited 14/08/15 2:18 pm

          Heh, yep, b not B - was actually writing this in an eye doctor's surgery and couldn't really see what I was typing... :)

    Will the changes to wireless tech, make the nbn redundant before it's even rolled out? 5G is coming by 2020 and that makes 4G look like dial up, with a record speed achieved of 1Tb/s, (I know that's in lab conditions but it will still be seriously fast)

      Sure, so long as hardly anyone uses it.

      But as soon as more than a few people in the same cell try to use it, the speed drops for everyone, because wireless is shared. If you tried to replace even just ADSL with 4G, let alone the NBN, there'd be so much congestion that dialup would look good.

      Last year, Australia was pushing around 17,000 terabytes a day through its networks - and that was before Netflix. It's doubling every 15 months. Shared wireless networks don't have a hope in hell of handling a fraction of that - only fixed cables can deliver all that data to the masses.

      BTW, fibre connections were getting 26 Tb/s over a single fibre way back in 2011 - and that isn't shared at all; everyone could have those speeds.

        Exactly, now if you had a real NBN, you could put nano cells on every street corner, and then they can mumble about wireless providing coverage.

        Another thought, small wonder Australia is amongst leading edge in mobile coverage... we have no fixed line alternatives! Line rentals reflect a ten year or older policy of driving people off a failing networks so theres sufficient copper for the remaining customers. {case in point 10 pair cable "servicing" 15 premises in my street, guess how many aren't connected anymore, pair gain is useless in modern telecommunication needs.}

    Awesome, I can use up my entire data allowance in under 2 minutes.

      One speed test of mine at 150/50 Mbps took up about 200MB of data -- it gets used up quickly!

      Yes. My overuse has always been sudden and extreme, otherwise I can rely on my usage. Essentially a bug on the phone (app updates on an iPhone, when in partial wifi range), or tethering gone wrong (auto updates). I've even left it in 3G to give me a little more time to react.

      The new Telstra $10 packs work well, along with the usage warnings actually coming reasonably promptly - but what I'd really like is a hard limit on my daily use like 200MB a day before my errant phone's data is stopped, awaiting an SMS request for more data.

    UE Cat 9 has the same theoretical download speeds as Cat 3,4,6 what you are after to increase upload speeds is Cat 10 that has the same theoretical download as 9. The other bands with higher upload is 5,7,12 and 14. with varying max download rates.

    Regards,

    Garth.

    What is the point if providing such speeds when we do not have sufficient data plans. Only Vodafone offers a 50gb plan. In saying that, standard 4G and 3G+ are already fast enough!

    “Optus’ network supports Cat 6 devices in all capital cities, bar Perth."

    Well, shit. That's where I live.

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