Telstra revealed some months ago that they are in the process of upgrading their existing Next G network to 4G (LTE), and aim to have it online by the end of 2011. This was exciting news for those prone to be excited by such things, and those who rely on high speed mobile data. The good news is that the project appears to be running more or less on schedule. The first 4G capable base stations were brought online in the CBDs of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane back in May, although this proved less thrilling than it might otherwise have been, when it transpired that no one owned hardware capable of exploiting the upgrade. Still, when we consider that the tin can was invented in 1810 but that the can opener did not hit the market until 1858, Telstra remains well ahead of the historical curve for technological lead times. With competitors trialling 4G themselves, this was always going to be the case.
In any case, the good news is that Telstra has finally released some 4G modems. The bad news is that it has only released 2,000 of them to selected Business and Enterprise customers, and that, as mentioned, they will only achieve 4G speeds in select inner cities. Obviously, this roll-out will spread as time goes by. In the meantime, it means that we will now be able to get some solid information on the real-world capabilities of 4G. Telstra has grown understandably coy about announcing figures, since the figures they announce never bear even a passing resemblance to the actual speeds users achieve. Anyone whose data card is rated ‘up to 21Mbps’ can attest to that.
The other thing to be aware of is that these are modems, and not phones. Although a number of 4G phones have been released overseas, ironically into markets lacking 4G networks, it is debatable whether we will see many 4G handsets in Australia before the end of the year, especially on Telstra (although the industry expects the next iPhones to feature 4G capability when they are announced next month).
As I mentioned, other telcos are also running 4G trials. Optus has announced that it intends to launch its 4G network in April next year, beginning in Newcastle, before spreading to over 500 base stations in capital cities. Meanwhile, VHA insists that their 4G network is ready to go - again in Newcastle - but that they won’t switch it on until the market is ready for it, which I think means waiting until suitable handsets hit the market.