Wednesday, 20 November 2013 13:11

Optus to trial wireless broadband on 4G Featured

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Optus has begun a trial of a 4G based home wireless broadband product. It takes advantage of the company’s key technological differentiator – 4G TDD.

Optus is leveraging its new TDD (time division duplex) 4G network to provide a new wireless broadband products for home and small business customers.

It has not released the product as yet, but has given a clear indication that it intends to do so with the announcement of a major trial in the homes of its employees.

Optus says its Home Wireless Broadband product is designed to provide an “easy, hassle free and flexible option for customers who may not want, or who are unable to receive, a fixed broadband service.”

There is no need for an existing phone line, installation technician or complicated set-up procedure, says Optus. “Customers will simply need an Optus Home Wireless Broadband device to start receiving quality broadband.” It will use the Optus 4G Plus network, initially only in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. If successful, it will be released across all Optus 4G Plus areas.

The trial will involve up to 200 Optus staff, who need to volunteer and register with the company. Martin Mercer of Optus said the trial will be used to test and learn how wireless broadband technology can “deliver a more consistent day-to-day experience and expand the home broadband options available to its customers.”

Telstra has a much larger 4G network than Optus, but does not offer a similar product – its 4G broadband is limited to mobile dongles, and it does not offer TDD.

Optus is the only Australian carrier using the TDD (time division duplex) standard for 4G. TDD, developed in China, is more efficient for data than the more common FDD (frequency division duplex) system, because it more efficiently manages the asymmetric usage patterns more typical of Internet usage – the symmetry of voice is more suited to FDD.

Optus is using FDD as well as TDD. FDD operates on the 1800 MHz band. Its TDD network operates on the 2300 MHz band and was trialled in Canberra.

The new home broadband trial will be conducted only on the Optus 4G Plus network, Optus’s term for its dual band FDD/TDD network. Optus says it will offer speeds similar to what users currently experience with ADSL2+ networks, and while pricing has not been announced, that will also need to be comparable. If, as may well happen, the Optus cable network is sold to NBN Co, it would become Optus’s primary broadband offering.

"This Optus Home Wireless Broadband trial is about putting our powerful 4G Plus network through its paces to understand the full potential of what we can delivery for our customers – not just in mobile, but also home broadband,” said Mercer. “This is not just in terms of speed and experience, but also how we manage our 4G Plus network to actively prevent a customer’s connection changing, wavering or dropping off during busy times.

“If the trial is successful, Optus will be able to offer home broadband services across ADSL2+, Cable, NBN and Wireless – providing real choice for whatever circumstances suit our customers’ needs.”

Optus staff in areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane that are served by the Optus 4G Plus network can register to participate in the trial, which will run for three months. Staff will be provided with a modem for the trial period to test network compatibility, user-friendliness and performance.

“The trial will also be used to ascertain how people will use this type of broadband at home – when, where and for what. It will explore the differences between the use of fixed Internet services and wireless. It is also intended to determine how customers will want to buy it, looking at such things as potential data inclusions and other features.”

Optus has recently signalled a change of direction in its 4G plans. Optus experienced a small drop in overall mobile user numbers last quarter (CommsWire, 15 November 2013), but 4G numbers are up significantly. It has stopped promoting 3G wireless as it gears up for 4G, and chief country officer for Australia Kevin Russell said the drop in customer numbers was a temporary aberration as the company geared up for 4G.

“We're focused on growing our combined 4G network to reach over 70% of the metro population by April 2014. With a multi-band 4G strategy that combines low-band 4G frequency for strong coverage [FDD] with high-band spectrum for increased network capacity [TDD], Optus is positioning itself to meet customers' needs for additional capacity and faster network speeds,” Russell said when the financials were announced.

The trial is the best indication yet of why Optus has opted for TDD in Australia. It provide the ideal technology for a wireless broadband network, and is a clear market differentiator.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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