Telecom launches 4G launch, Vodafone responds
Telecom held a launch event this morning ahead of its 4G network going live today after a slight delay (it was originally scheduled for October).
In most cases you'll need a new 4G sim card to use the upgraded network, plus a compatible smartphone or data stick. Compatible devices include the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c, the latest iPads, Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S4, the BlackBerry Z10, Sony's Xperia Z and Z1, and a new ZTE handset that got thrown around. Some SIM cards used with 3G devices can be used with the new 4G network, but will have to be reactivated at a Telecom store.
Anyone on any Telecom plan can access the faster 4G network once they've got one of the new 4G SIM cards, which are being sent out now. Telecom says 40,000 4G SIM cards have been sent to customers so far. Earlier October, Vodafone said 200,000 were using 4G capable devices on its network. Today it wouldn't update on that number, citing commercial sensitivity.
The company emphasises it lets pre-pay customers into the 4G tent, too - a dig at Vodafone, which has so far offered 4G for contract customers only. [UPDATE: This afternoon Vodafone said it would open 4G to prepay, with no surcharge, from December 11.]
Telecom has no surcharge for 4G (Vodafone whacked $10 onto most plans between February and last month; competition has seen it go free too).
The initial rollout is in parts of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch (see coverage map here) - after which there will be a "breather" (see below). That's frustrating for Telecom customers who want 4G everywere immediately, but a smart move from a commercial standpoint - and a technical one too, given the "XT" (3G) launch debacle.
Vodafone, which launched 4G in February (2degrees says it will follow in the New Year) has 4G in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown, Wanaka, Lake Brunner, Taupo, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Arrowtown and parts of the Coromandel (see coverage map here).
Sensibly, Telecom isn't making any official speed claims for 4G, which can hit a landline fibre-like 100Mbit/s for mobile data downloads, or up to 150Mbit/s if you've got a "Cat 4" 4G device.
The carrier is just saying it'll be much faster than its 3G network.
Vodafone's 4G network (which launched in Feburary; coverage map here) and Telecom's both offer blistering speeds, and all the bandwidth you could want whether you're on a smartphone, tablet, or have your mobile tethered to your laptop.
As ever with mobile data, real-life speeds will be variable, and depend on factors like how close you are to the nearest 4G tower, local obstacles and interference, and busy the network is.
The issue for most customers will be "mind the cap" - both Telecom and Vodafone are offering mainstream plans with 1GB and 2GB data caps - a level better suited to 3G than 4G with its landline-replacement potential. There is movement here, with 3GB, 4G, 5GB and 8GB options appearing (the latter as part of a robustly priced $219 plan) - but even at that level if you follow Vodafone's suggestion and "say hello to things like streaming HD movies" you'll use up your monthly 4G allowance inside a couple of hours.
One of the highlighted apps at this morning's launch, held at Telecom place in Auckland, was video conferencing, with a live session set up with a Telecom rep in a car in Christchurch. At both ends, a MacBook with a 4G data dongle attached was used to host a Polycom RealPresence session (any video chat software will look better with 4G rather than 3G at both ends). Telecom says at high resolution, the video conferencing uses 1GB of data every half hour - a biting chunk if you're on an average data plan. You can halve or quarter the data if you opt for lower video resolution - but then of course you loose some of the benefit of 4G (although there's more too it than just raw bandwidth/speed; 4G also has less much latency, or lag).
Telecom Retail Chris Quin says data caps are increasing. The new 8GB plan was introduced just a couple of months ago, and there are also bolt-ons. Mr Quin also notes Telecom is offering its customers up to 1GB of mobile data free over its phone box wi-fi network - although it's an alternative connection option; you can't seamlessly transition to wi-fi if you're in the middle of a video call and you're getting close to busting your 4G data cap.
Vodafone launched 4G in February (see its coverage map here); 2degrees says it will begin its upgrade next year.
Earlier Telecom chief operating officer David Havercroft tells NBR ONLINE the company will fill out its 4G network around Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch through until early 2014 using its existing 1800MHz spectrum. It will then "take a breath break to think about how best to use 700MHz" (the band which will shortly be auction by the government).
"I wouldn't say our world will end if we don't win 700MHz spectrum," Mr Havercroft says. However, the band, with its long throw, is the most economic for covering rural and semi-rural New Zealand, he says.
Control your kids
Huawei is Telecom's primary partner on its 4G rollout, displacing longtime incumbent Alcatel-Lucent (the company's collaborator on 3G/XT and its landline network). But Cisco has a piece of Telecom's 4G data transport action, and Ericsson has built a new Home Subscriber Service and the replacement Home Location Register - what Telecom describes as the central ‘brains’ of the network, a database that holds all customer profile information. Mr Havercoft says on a national level, this Ericsson system can be used for prioritising emergency calls. In future, there's also potential for personal data management, such as parents being given the option to curb their kids' mobile Facebook use.
Why 4G? Telecom Retail Chris Quin pitches it for "Shopping online, streaming music, or making stutter-free video calls to family and friends ... It will also allow businesses to stimulate more efficient ways of working remotely with teams on the road able to make reliable video calls, download pictures and documents in seconds and use cloud services on their mobiles."
Earlier, Forsyth Barr senior equities analyst Blair Galpin told NBR Telecom's 4G delay from its October target date was no biggie - as long as the company launched its upgrade before 1) the Christmas rush and 2) Apple's local iPhone 5s and 5c launch.