A further 200 towns and regional centres in addition to the 100 presently served will get coverage by Christmas taking the percentage of the population served by Telstra LTE from 66 percent to 85 percent. The first 45 towns have been named (see below). The upgrade will mean converting a further 1500 base stations to LTE operation, in addition to the 2000 presently deployed.
Telstra COO Brendon Riley said that in March there were more than 2.4 million LTE devices on Telstra's network. This figure is made up of 1.4 million handsets, 150,000 tablets, 370,00 dongles and 225,000 WiFi hotspots. "[LTE] traffic is going at about 23 percent a month so it doubles about every four months," he said.
Telstra's executive director networks, Mike Wright, told delegates to MobileAsiaExpo in June that LTE traffic now accounted for 15 percent of mobile broadband traffic. Wright also presented a powerful argument, other than customer demand, for Telstra's enthusiasm for LTE. He put up a slide showing that the cost of providing LTE capacity was about 20 percent that of HSPA+ and 10 percent of HSDPA.
Riley said that LTE was now being deployed instead of 3G to increase capacity, not just speed. "We are seeing still seeing some 3G growth, but it is slowing quite rapidly and that is what we envisaged as part of our long-term strategy."
He added: "As we continue to deploy 4G we will start to close up the coverage patches and we expect to have near continuous 4G coverage, especially in many of the holiday destinations."
Riley declined to answer questions about what speeds customers would get from LTE. However Wright showed MobileAsiaExpo delegates a slide suggesting that coverage could be generally in the range 5-50Mbps downstream compared to 0-15Mbps for 3G services.
Riley said that Telstra now had 20MHz of contiguous spectrum for its 1800MHz LTE service in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane and 15MHz in Sydney and Melbourne and 10MHz elsewhere. Devices that support LTE Cat4 can make use of this increased bandwidth for greater throughput. At present there are only two such devices on the market in Australia: the Huawei Ascend P2 smartphone released this week and a USB dongle.
At present, voice on Telstra's LTE network is circuit switched 3G, but LTE networks are progressively moving to carry voice as packet data over LTE (VoLTE). Riley said: "We are continuing to evaluate voice-over LTE. We are not in a position to announce anything yet but it is something we are very seriously evaluating and collaborating with handset providers and the rest of the global ecosystem."
Riley said he was unaware of any plans by Telstra to resell LTE services. Nor does Telstra at present make the higher speeds on its HSPA network available to resellers.
Telstra has identified the first 45 towns to receive LTE. In NSW: Ballina, Batemans Bay, Grafton, Kiama, Muswellbrook, Nelson Bay – Corlette, Ulladulla, Casino, Leeton, Merimbula, Moree, Mudgee, Murwillumbah, Narrabri and Yamba. In Victoria: Colac, Sale, Healesville, Kilmore, Lakes Entrance, Stawell. In Queensland: Bargara – Innes Park, Dalby, Beaudesert, Biloela, Charters Towers, Goondiwindi, Gordonvale, Innisfail, Kingaroy. In South Australia: Strathalbyn, Berri, Kadina, Kapunda, Loxton, Wallaroo. In Western Australia: Ellenbrook, Collie, Margaret River, Northam, Denmark, Donnybrook, Dunsborough, Manjimup. In Tasmania: Latrobe.