Vodafone says its first rural trial of 4G technology is underway in the Lake Brunner area of the South Island's West Coast. The trial will run until the end of July - using spectrum 700MHz borrowed from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
The 700MHz spectrum (also known as the ‘Digital Dividend’) is being freed up for telecommunications services as the country switches over from analogue to digital television transmission
Lake Brunner was selected as the trial site in part because analogue TV has already been turned off in the area, which allowed Vodafone grab some loaner spectrum for its trial ahead of the government's 700MHz action (due in a couple of months).
On the same cell site, Vodafone has enabled 4G using 1800MHz spectrum (as used for its urban 4G rollout so far), meaning any Vodafone customers in the coverage area with a 4G-capable device and qualifying plan will also be able to use the service.
Vodafone charges a $10 a month premium for its recently-launched 4G service. Compatible 1800MHz 4G devices include the most recent version of Samsung's Galaxy S III, and the latest iPhone and iPad.
The company also wants to test smarphones and data dongles on the 700MHz band being trialed. The version of the iPhone 5 sold here doesn't support the 700MHz band being trialled, Vodafone is bringing a selection of iPhone 5s and other 700MHz-ready devices to NZ from AT&T in the US.
Telecom, which has a 4G trial underway and a commercial launch in urban areas planned for October, tells NBR it also plans to deploy 4G in rural rural areas, co-locating its gear on Vodafone-constructed celltowers.
Chorus and Vodafone are won the six-year contract to build a rural broadband network under the $300 million public-private Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI). Under the scheme, Chorus is laying new fibre in rural areas, and Vodafone constructing new cell towers and upgrading others. The RBI is a wholesale network.
Vodafone launched 4G in parts of Auckland on 28 February. The mobile technology - which allows for much faster internet connections than 3G used in most places today - will be rolled out to Christchurch in May, Wellington by September and 15 other cities across New Zealand by Christmas.
Tony Baird, Vodafone's head of networks, says the Lake Brunner dual frequency trial will be carried out over several months allowing the company to demonstrate and test the benefits of 4G in a rural environment.
“4G technology has huge potential for rural New Zealand as it will drive productivity gains for this essential part of our economy. We are working in partnership with the government to bring broadband to rural communities through the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), and we have committed to making all the RBI sites upgradeable to LTE.
“Lake Brunner is an ideal test location as it has a number of different characteristics which mean we can test a number of things at the same time, including topography (meaning we can test the technology over land and water), geography (being surrounded by mountains means the radio frequency is relatively isolated) and cell tower type.”
“The trial will provide valuable data to support the eventual rollout of 4G to rural New Zealand and we are looking forward to working with the Lake Brunner community as we test this exciting new technology,” Mr Baird says.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, says, “The area has had a massive growth in tourism, as well as being home to many dairy farms that will all benefit from the services available on a 4G network. Lake Brunner is the preferred holiday destination of many Cantabrians, and this will allow them to stay connected with their businesses on the other side of the Alps. You will be able to experience the rainforest, fresh air and lakes, whilst enjoying the absolute latest in communication technology.”
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