Having passed through technical trials, Telecom’s fourth-generation network, based on Long-Term Evolution technology, has entered the user testing phase. Individual users and small-to-medium and major enterprises in the Auckland and Wellington regions are hooked into a test version of the network.
TVNZ is already much in evidence using the LTE test setup to deliver video on demand from its huge stocks of content, “any time, anywhere, through a variety of devices,” says Gen-i Australasia CEO Tim Miles. There were iPads and other tablets scattered around at Telecom’s Wellington launch event on Monday, showing the service with no visible stutter. TVNZ has been “hugely supportive” of the LTE development, says Miles – only on his third day in the job, owing to a slightly delayed start because of illness.
Other Gen-i clients involved in the trial include Westpac, Mitre10 and the Hutt Valley District Health Board.
Each consumer and SME triallist has been equipped with a device capable of receiving a 4G LTE signal over Telecom’s network. Over the next six weeks they will take part in a series of tests using the devices and report back to Telecom on their experiences.
Five people from Capacity Infrastructure Services, which manages the water networks in Wellington, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt are taking part in the trial. Evan Cowley, IT specialist at Capacity, says he can see real business benefits in the faster speeds offered by 4G LTE, and his team is looking forward to putting the network through its paces during the trial.
“We have staff who are offsite a lot, and they often need to use Google Maps, Google Earth and get remote access to databases for their work. The speed of the mobile connection makes a big difference, and we’d be very interested to see what 4G LTE can do for us,” he says.
LTE will move into production mode later this calendar year, initially using existing Telecom spectrum in the 1800MHz and – to a limited extent – the 2600Mhz bands.
For deployment to rural areas, however , Telecom plans to use the space created in the 700 MHz band by the ending of analogue television. The 700MHz spectrum also gives greater coverage, so it will require fewer cell sites.
No Telecom or Gen-i people at the launch cared to estimate when this stage might take off, particularly bearing in mind unresolved Maori claims to a share of the freed spectrum.
There was some discussion of whether computer hardware typically in use in SMEs and home offices had the capacity to do justice to 4G communications, or whether the innovation would spark a demand for more powerful laptops and desktops.
Richard Fraser, head of emerging technologies at Alcatel-Lucent discussed a number of actual or potential applications he suggests would have been impractical before 4G, such as a maintenance van in visual communication with its base, with internal wifi hotspot and RFID inventory control. He suggested there is a ripe opportunity for Kiwi applications developers to grab a slice of the 4G market, predicted to grow at 75% a year for the next few years.