Optus has committed to rolling out a 4G LTE network with services expected to be available from April 2012.
It has also plans to upgrade its 3G network to meet growing demand for mobile data downloads.
LTE is the successor of 3G and is capable of delivering faster mobile wireless broadband speeds at a higher capacity.
Early this year, Telstra announced it was rolling out its 4G LTE network by refarming its 2G 1800MHz spectrum.
In February, Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) was forced to make a $1 billion to upgrade its network after complaints of poor service. LTE was part of the plan.
Compared to its competitors, Optus is a bit late on the bandwagon but the company saw this as the right time to get the LTE ball rolling.
“What we have announced today is timing which coincides with when devices, the ecosystem and the applications - we think - will be well developed,” Optus chief, Paul O’Sullivan, said.
Like Telstra, Optus will be deploying its LTE network on the 1800MHz spectrum with phase one to begin in Newcastle, Port Stephens, the Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie. Services are expected to be available from April 2012.
Rollout will then move to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth by mid next year. The network will expand to other capital cities in phase two.
The telco is going with FD-LTE technology, claiming it is the more mainstream option compared to TD-LTE, which is used by the likes of vividwireless.
Unlike Telstra, which is giving business customers a chance to test out LTE services first, Optus plans to release services to both consumer and business customers simultaneously.
Optus has its eye on the lucrative 700MHz spectrum band for future LTE deployment. The spectrum, which has been made available thanks to the digital TV switchover will be auctioned off by ACMA next year.
Public service organisations are pushing for a piece of that to be reserved for a public safety broadband network, much to the chagrin of private telco providers.
Optus has obtained a scientific trial licence to test LTE services in the 700MHz spectrum. Bendigo in Victoria has been selected as the test site. The trial will begin next month.
Chinese communications vendor, Huawei, will be the equipment supplier for the trial. The vendor's SingleRAN technology will be used.
Huawei is also the equipment supplier for VHA's network upgrade.
According to the Optus, 700MHz is vital for LTE especially in regional Australia due to its ability to cover longer distances and penetrate in buildings.
It is too early for the telco to disclose pricing for LTE mobile broadband plans but the telco has not ruled out charging extra for services running on the newer and faster network.
“We won’t be just looking at headline price… we will be trying to think of innovative ways to bring the product to market,” O’Sullivan said.
With Optus’ 3G mobile network upgrade, the company has announced it is embarking on one of the world largest UMTS 900MHz spectrum migrations.
Currently, it only uses the 900MHz spectrum for 2G GSM services. UMTS, a 3G mobile technology, is on the 2100MHz. What Optus plans to do is refarm 900MHz and use half of it for UMTS services in metropolitain areas. Such upgrades have already been trialled in 30 regional centres such as Ballarat in Victoria.
“This will provide much better indoor coverage and it will deliver also, with UMTS, much higher speeds. It also gives us additional capacity,” Optus networks managing director, Guenther Ottendorfer, said.
The proliferation of tablets and smartphones has increased pressure for telcos to keep up with demand for mobile data downloads.
As part of the UMTS 900MHz migration, Optus will upgrade 300 mobile sites in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Work will begin this month with Brisbane and Adelaide to follow.
As part of continued network expansion, Optus also plans to bring in 500 new mobile sites and upgrade 500 existing ones which will be focused in regional areas. It has added 600 new sites in the last financial year.
The telco has also initiated work on rolling out HSPA+ over the Optus Network. HSPA+ is a standard for wireless broadband which significantly increases data transfer speeds.
Optus has already activated 700 mobile sites with HSPA+ and will expand its footprint gradually. The telco is currently trialling dual carrier mode in Sydney which will eventually be capable of 42Mbps peak download speeds.
The company has spent $2 billion in the last four years on its mobile network and will spend a further $500 million this financial year.