Last week we celebrated the 10 year anniversary of Telstra’s NextG launch. With the launch of NextG, Telstra’s first national 3G service, we were able to do a whole lot of things on wireless we previously couldn’t do.

At the time, it was a huge undertaking and a controversial one. It cost $1 billion, was 5 times faster and 100 times geographically bigger than any other 3GSM mobile network in Australia.

We were the first company here or abroad to build and launch such a far-reaching, high-speed, wireless broadband network in less than a year, in fact we built the new network out to 5,112 new sites in just 10 months.

The project was not without its risks and controversy though. In order to rationalise Telstra’s three wireless networks and become competitive again we had to:

  • Take a risk on an emerging new 3GSM broadband technology known as HSDPA.
  • Launch one of the world’s first networks using the lower frequency 850 MHz spectrum band which meant there were few devices. We launched with just three handsets and a data card at the time.
  • Close the rural coverage optimised CDMA network. To do this, we had to migrate 1.7 million CDMA customers onto the new NextG network as well as pass the Government’s independent coverage equivalence tests.
  • Take the 3G service and optimise it for rural coverage. This required a range of activity, including developing the world’s first 200km cell range technology and the creation of the “Blue Tick” standard to advise country customers which phone worked best.

With the launch of such an extensive 3G service in term of coverage breadth and depth, customers were for the first time ‘always on 3G’. As a result, they were able to get a more reliable and consistent data performance, a far cry from networks that moved back and forward from 3G to 2G depending on location. But what did that mean at the time?

  • Videos and pictures: Our customers we were suddenly able to picture message, make and stream video and access the internet. Cameras in handsets started to take off (and be usable) and with the launch of the iPhone 3G here in July 2008, apps suddenly came into their own and created a whole industry ecosystem entirely devoted to their creation.
  • Business on the go: Our business customers could connect their PCs to internet beyond the office and drive productivity.
  • Speeds like never before: Customers could experience network download speeds averaging 550 kilobits per second to 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) with peak speeds of up to 3.6Mbps download. We rapidly took these speeds skywards as we delivered one world first after the other at 14.4, 21 and 42Mbps on HSDPA. And we have continued that pace into LTE and are on the verge of launching the world’s first 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) device (that’s a 278 times increase in peak device speeds in 10 years).
  • Coverage for most of Australia: We had coverage of 1.6 million square kilometres at launch covering 98% of the population – we’ve added approximately 800,000 km2 in the ten years since and have now reached more than 2.4 million square kilometres covering 99.3% of the population, including hundreds of thousands of square kilometres not covered by any other carrier.
  • Foxtel: There were 12 Foxtel channels loaded onto Telstra’s original handsets, which was completely game changing at the time. This was before tablets were even dreamed about.

Australia now has some of the best mobile service population coverage and technology in the world, plus falling prices for mobile plans and increasing data allowances. It would be fair to say that without Telstra’ bold and ambitious plan to build the NextG network and close the CDMA network, many of Australia’s rural communities may have been tied to the declining CDMA ecosystem and missed out on one of the more important technology evolutions so far this century.

We have continued with our commitment to regional Australia, which is why 15% of Telstra’s mobile network investment has gone to 2% of the population in remote areas over the last decade. In 2011 Telstra was the first carrier to extend 4G services into regional areas and now reaches 98% of the Australia population with 4G coverage including in over 600 regional towns.

Now we’re trialing 5G technology with potential download speeds of 20 Gbps and our phones are an extension of our body and our lives. It’s always good to take a moment to reflect on milestones like these and appreciate how technology can change everything.