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Vodafone launches 4G in Welly; HD video controversy lingers

UPDATED: Carrier coy on customer numbers. Debate continues around "download and HD movie in minutes promo."

Chris Keall
Mon, 29 Jul 2013

UPDATE July 29: Vodafone has officially launched 4G in Wellington this morning, as scheduled.

Around 33% of the capital is covered, including the central city and Lower Hutt. Vodafone says that will rise to 50% by September. See a coverage map here.

Vodafone said today that there are now 150,000 4G capable devices on its network. They include the latest iPhone and iPad, plus the latest Samsung Galaxy series smartphones, among many others.

However, the carrier did not immediately respond to an NBR query about how many of those 150,000 have signed up to 4G plans.

On most accounts, you have to pay a $10/month premium to access 4G - a charge that will stay at least until 4G competition arrives from Telecom, which will launch 4G in October, and 2degrees, which will launch in the new year.

Meanwhile, the carrier persists in promoting that 4G can be used to download an HD movie in minutes - a technically correct claim, but one that would be challenging on a customer's wallet given it would see them blow their monthly data cap in minutes.

This point, has been raised by NBR on several occasions (below), and re-emerged this morning as Geekzone founder Mauricio Freitas tweeted:


Vodafone sets date for Wellington 4G

UPDATE / July 19: Vodafone will hold a launch event for 4G in Wellington on July 29.

The carrier has already upgraded its network in parts of Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Power user Owen Williams tells NBR ONLINE 4G is already switched on in the capital (a Vodafone spokewoman confirms some sites are already enabled).

Mr Williams clocked blistering speeds (see result above right).

Telecom is scheduled to launch 4G from October, starting with Auckland.

2degrees says it will begin a 4G upgrade early next year. All can be expected to achieve very handy mobile download times. It's still wide-open who'll be the first to offer a realistic 4G data cap (again, Vodafone's ad suggestion to download a high def movie on 4G is inadvisable in real-life, unless you want to blow through your monthly data cap in 10 minutes).

Confusion and delay continue to dog the government's 700MHz auction, originally scheduled for last year.

All three telcos say they will ultimately need the 700MHz spectrum freed up by the digital TV switchover, but have enough capacity for their early rollouts.

Vodafone expands 4G to parts of Christchurch; says 60,000 on new mobile service

UPDATE / May 29: Vodafone has launched its 4G service in parts of Christchurch today (see coverage map here).

The carrier says 70% of the city will be covered by the new, faster mobile network by July this year.

Vodafone says it is also upgrading Queenstown to 4G, and will expand its service to Wellington in August or September.

Telecom plans a 4G launch, initially in Auckland, in October.

2degrees says 4G is in the works, but has yet to reveal a timetable.

Testing 4G in Auckland, NBR has hit mobile data speeds of 70Mbit/s+ down and 30Mbit/s+ up.

That's stonking bandwidth - more than 10 times that enjoyed by most on 3G - but also enough to blast through Vodafone's most generous standard monthly mobile data cap (3GB) in around 10 minutes if you're downloading a big file, like the HD movies of Vodafone's promo campaign.

To a degree the blistering speed was down to the fact NBR was an earlier 4G adopter - but barely alone. 

Vodafone also said today that 60,000 of its customers have upgraded to 4G since the launch in parts of Auckland (all told, Vodafone has 2.3 million mobile connections nationwide).

Customers on most mobile plans pay a $10 a month premium for 4G.

Vodafone says it's now offering 12 4G-capable phones, but still can't say when it will start selling a 4G data stick.

Vodafone launches 4G service - but doesn't recommend it for big downloads

Feb 28: Vodafone's superfast 4G/LTE broadband service, now live in Auckland, will allow for download speeds ten times faster than current networks, the company says. 

The company has beaten rivals to the punch, although Telecom and 2degrees both say they have 4G launches coming later (see below).

Chief executive Russell Stanners says "everything goes better" on the new network, which will enhance mobile video conferencing, gaming and video uploads. 

The company says 4G is live in a third of Auckland (see coverage map here). This will be followed in Christchurch in May and Wellington in August/September.

Six 4G phones and tablets
The carrier has six devices which are capable of using 4G: the iPhone 5, iPad retina, iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Samsung Galaxy Note II and HTC Windows Phone X. 

A 4G data stick is conspicuous by its absence. Vodafone tells NBR product is in development, but no release date has been revealed.

The upgrade means about 65,000 people across the country already have the ability to use the network, he says. Vodafone has been upgrading more than 300 cell sites to support the network but declined to comment on the capital cost.

No data boost with 4G plans
The service is not available on prepaid yet but is available on contract with a software upgrade. Entry level users can get a SIM only plan for $40 per month which includes 500MB of data. Users on a $120 per month plan (which includes 2GB of data) will receive 4G services as part of their package.

Existing data plans will not be changed yet as faster speeds did not necessitate bigger data caps, Vodafone says. 

Mr Stanners says 23% of data comes from video usage such as YouTube and 4G will enhance people's experience with the video-sharing site.

Don't use 4G for huge data - Vodafone
NBR is disappointed Vodafone is not making major move to boost mobile data caps as it introduces 4G.

When NBR asked Mr Stanners if he thought customers would use more data over 4G, he pointed to overseas experience, saying, "Our bundles are more than enough for the average smartphone user.  We have experience of 4G from around the world, including the USA where average usage is 1 to 2 gigabytes."

The CEO added, "If customers want to move huge amounts of data around, DSL and especially fibre are the solutions we would recommend, not 4G.

"Customers tend to use 4G when they’re out and about, and to use wi-fi when they’re at home and at work."

NBR suggests this usage pattern is shaped by pricing.

Vodafone is quite correct that 4G is superfast. It has the potential to replace your landline broadband - but only if you had a monthly mobile data cap that was closer to 50GB than 2GB. 

For now, the mobile revolution is tightly constrained. 

You could download an HD movie in minutes, but ...
Vodafone's marketing for 4G includes the line, "Say hello to things like streaming HD movies, or downloading them in minutes."

And ideed you could with download speeds topping 70Mbit/s (and upload speed topping 11Mbit/s in Vodafone tests).

But you would also wipe out a monthly 2 gigabyte data cap in under two hours - a 4G bill shock scenario that The Wall Street Journal has reported on in the US.

Vodafone says its Data Angel service will prevent any surprises here.

Voice remains on 2G/3G
4G/LTE technology can improve the quality of voice calls, and their stability, with its extra capacity offering the tantilising promise that you'll actually be able to phone someone from a big concert or All Blacks game at half time.

But for now, Vodafone will continue to carry voice calls over its 3G network. Mr Stanners says the 4G service will eventually include voice calls.

Telecom, 2degrees circling
A Telecom spokesperson yesterday told NBR ONLINE it would roll out its LTE product before the end of the year. It has already begun testing in Lower Hutt and North Shore in Auckland.

2degrees said it would upgrade to 4G, but would not reveal any timetable.

Although the government won't auction 4G-friendly 700MHz spectrum freed up by the digital TV switchover until later this year, 4G can also be run over 1800MHz and 2100MHz spectrum - and Vodafone enjoyed a top up in both those bands when it acquired TelstraClear, including most of its spectrum rights, in October last year.

Under the terms of the TelstraClear sale (perhaps to head off Commerce Commission qualms), some of TelstraClear's spectrum was made available for purchase by rivals and CEO Eric Hertz recently revealed 2degrees bought a 1800MHz block of spectrum from Telstra for $15 million

Chris Keall
Mon, 29 Jul 2013
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Vodafone launches 4G in Welly; HD video controversy lingers