The Transition To Digital Mobiles In Australia

Australia went through a revolution almost 10 years ago. Telstra turned off the original AMPS phone network and the Australian mobile network entered the digital age. However, it wasn't as easy as turning off the old network and flipping the lever on the digital network.

In Australia, many decisions come down to how they will affect our rural population. Although the analog system was woefully inefficient with every conversation requiring its own slice of the available spectrum, it did cover wide swathes of Australia's remote population.

The replacement technology ended up being a combination of two different systems. The GSM network covered the more densely populated parts of the country with CDMA was used in sparser regions. CDMA's advantage was that few transmitter towers could be used to deliver adequate coverage. Of course, the result was that one phone didn't work everywhere. There were situations where a GSM user couldn't make calls in a CDMA area and vice versa.

Politically, the closure of AMPS was enacted through an act of parliament that took effect at midnight on 1 January 2000 - a politically created Y2K bug! By the time the AMPS network was ready for closure three separate GSM networks, operated by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, were in operation covering most of the population. However, given Australia's uneven population distribution, population coverage numbers were deceiving.

CDMA became a huge headache. Aside from running two separate networks, it couldn't be switched off until the government signed off on its replacement. That took about eight years, as Telstra built its extended GSM network, NextG, running at 850MHz. Aside from the network costs, every customer needed a new handset.

So, from 1981 when Australia's AMPS network was turned on to 2000 when that network was turned off and replaced with the GSM/CDMA hybrid through to today where we have GSM, albeit running on different frequencies depending on the carrier, the mobile phone network has continued to evolve.

MobileModo is Gizmodo Australia’s look at the rise and rise of the mobile phone, from Bell’s landline to the ubiquitous mobiles of today.