The waves that will help us ride the data tsunami

The result of the Government’s mobile spectrum auction was released today and Telstra was successful in winning the amount of spectrum we wanted. We see this as  a great outcome on a number of fronts including for our customers,  so I wanted to give you an understanding of what it means and why it’s so important.

Our mobile network use radio transmission to carry signals through the air just like radio and television. The spectrum we use is defined by where on the dial we sit (the frequency) and how much of the dial we take up (the spectrum bandwidth).

The more spectrum bandwidth we have access to the greater the amount of information we can carry and the more users we can support on our network, a bit like having more lanes on a freeway allows more traffic to be carried.

There is only access to a limited amount of radio spectrum and the large number of competing uses (mobile phones, radio, TV, etc) is what makes it  valuable.

With demand for mobile data almost doubling year on year you can see why getting access to more spectrum was vital. It provides us with more certainty in the longer term, means we can better manage demand for data with greater capacity, and that we’ll continue to offer the best possible range of next generation mobile services to our customers.

What spectrum did Telstra buy?

Telstra bought new spectrum in the following bands:

  • 700 MHz : this is a low frequency band like our 850MHz network which works very well in covering large distances in rural areas as well as giving good in-building coverage. It’s not only the frequency that’s important but the amount. Because we bought 2x 20 MHz blocks we can deliver the maximum peak speed for 4G and support more users in this band when the spectrum becomes available.
  • 2500MHz : this is a high frequency band that’s good for providing capacity as network traffic grows. We‘ve bought 2 x 40 MHz blocks which will cater for growth and technology evolution that may see us delivering peak speeds of up to 500 Mbps in the coming years.

What does this mean right now and what are the plans?

With the demand on 4G growing so strongly we’re looking at how we manage 4G capacity before most of the new spectrum becomes available (with 2500MHz available in October 2014 and 700MHz from January 2015) and we’ve got a trick or two up our sleeves.

Firstly we’re seeing new devices that support the LTE900 MHz band (another low frequency band) so we’ll use this in areas where coverage and capacity makes sense. We’ll also deliver Australia’s first LTE-Advanced network and devices using LTE900+1800.

We’ve also been using some 2100MHz spectrum to provide extra capacity on our 3G 850MHz network using the latest generation of network radio equipment known as Software Defined Radio. As the number of LTE devices that are capable of LTE2100 increases, we can simply change these cells from 3G to 4G-LTE via software. This will help us manage 4G capacity until we get the new spectrum.

So what about LTE 700?

The spectrum we bought is in the APT700 band. This band was developed for the Asia Pacific region and we helped design it. The good news is the layout of this band if very efficient and offers a great platform for the future. The challenge is getting enough networks around the world deploying in this band so handsets and devices are readily available.

We’ve got experience in this area having been influential in making LTE1800 the world’s most popular 4G/LTE band.

We are already seeing some great signs that new chips are going to make the manufacture of APT700 devices easy. We expect much of Latin America will use this spectrum and we also expect some European networks to get on board with a common part of the band. This is great for not only Australia but for all nations that adopt this spectrum band.

The auction result has been a good one for us. While there remains a lot of work to be done, I’m looking forward to delivering the next generation of wireless services to Australia and leaving a long term legacy, for the next generation of Telstra engineers, but more importantly our customers.

For more information, please read Telstra’s media release.