So much nonsense has been written about the so-called 4G versus NBN debate that it seems that everyone except some serious telecoms pundits have overlooked a key fact – the NBN is still years away. Therefore, the debate is really 4G versus DSL, a debate that looks to start heating up very soon.
It is a touch ironic that the latest news to come out of NBNCo is its $120 million acquisition of spectrum from satellite TV provider Austar so that it can provide 12Mbps wireless services for 10% of Australians that won’t get fibre.
As for the other 90% of us, let’s not keep our eyes peeled for the fibre layers coming down our street anytime soon.
For the next five years or so, a question many of us are going to be faced with is should we stick with our DSL or even our cable internet service or should we give 4G wireless a try.
In fact, many are already asking that question given the reasonably acceptable coverage and performance that Telstra’s NextG network provides. However, LTE offers a quantum leap in terms of performance above even HSPA+ 3G.
To get an idea of what to realistically expect from a commercial LTE connection there is an excellent video that a reader kindly posted to our site. In heavily populated areas of Sweden and Norway, users of Telia’s LTE service are getting typical download speeds of 20Mbps and upload speeds of 5Mbps.
That’s right, the first generation of LTE – never mind LTE Advanced - can provide comparable performance to high end DSL and cable.
Of course the naysayers will trot out the line that LTE is a shared wireless service and therefore performance will degrade under heavy use. True, that’s probably why users in Stockholm are only getting 20Mbps instead of 100Mbps, although admittedly it is unknown how many users are on that particular network.
It also happens to be true that LTE is very spectrum efficient – more so than HSPA - and at least some well informed pundits believe Telstra in particular has more than enough bandwidth on its 1800 MHz spectrum allocation to meet LTE demand.
Remember, Telstra is already providing a pretty respectable service to close to 1 million wireless users of its less efficient (and much slower than LTE) HSPA service, many of which are using it instead of a fixed line connection.
4G (or what is claimed to be 4G) is already up and running in Australia. If you happen to be in the very limited coverage zones of the Vivid Wireless service, it claims to provide reliable and consistent download speeds in the 5Mbps to 8Mbps range.
One can expect when the much better resourced Telstra deploys its LTE service later this year and into 2012, it will be offering wireless performance comparable to DSL. That’s when the market will get interesting.
Two final points:
Optus and Vodafone have so far shown little inclination to put resources into building out their HSPA networks to a level that matches Telstra. As a result, they’re bleeding customers by the hundreds of thousands, which demonstrates the demand for good wireless services.
Wireless naysayers point to the cost and limited download of wireless broadband allocations available. They’re right Telstra’s HSPA and HSPA+ services are way too expensive and the download allocations too small.
The reason is, as it always has been, Telstra with no serious competition in the wireless broadband market is in a position where it can charge what it likes. Right now, Telstra has little interest in competing with its own fixed line customers by charging comparable rates.
If its fixed line assets expected are to be sold off to NBNCo, however, watch how aggressive Telstra will become in luring its fixed line DSL and cable customers over to its NextG services. Meanwhile, fibre could arrive at your doorstep sometime this decade so keep your eyes peeled.