Spark promises 4.5G as 4G coverage passes 90 percent

Spark said it had already taken the first steps towards 4.5G

Spark has taken the opportunity of communications minister Simon Bridges’ announcement that the target of 90 percent of New Zealanders having access to 4G (LTE) cellular to talk up the next iteration of cellular technology, which it has described as 4.5G — a term that can be applied to LTE-Advanced or the newer technology of LTE-Advanced Pro.

Spark said it had already taken the first steps towards 4.5G, and that it was operating on two cell sites, one in central Christchurch and the other in Silverdale and would be rolled out to more sites soon.

Spark general manager of networks, Colin Brown, said: “We are the first and only provider in New Zealand to give people a taste of the future with 4.5G, which provides more capacity and faster mobile speeds, with speeds of over 1Gbps possible as devices catch up to the network in the future.”

LTE A Pro was specified by 3GPP in Release 13 and Release 14 of its standards. In June 2016 3GPP 47 operators globally had trialled, deployed or commercially launched LTE-A Pro technologies, including Telstra. However the standard enables a maximum throughput in excess of 3Gbps and 3GPP noted “As yet there are no 3Gbps phones on the market. LG, Samsung and Sony all have 600Mbps capable phones, but the next to come to market will only support 1Gbps… Clearly, full commercial LTE-A Pro services are still some time off.”

Optus in Australia last month launched an LTE-A Pro service in the area around its Sydney headquarters saying it would deliver in excess of 1Gbps and would be rolled out to provide 70 percent coverage in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide over the next 12 months.

However Telstra is already providing this throughput on a much wider scale using the more established LTE-Advanced technology and the recently introduced Netgear Nighthawk portable hotspot.

Bridges announced that the 90 percent 4G (LTE) coverage target had been reached two years earlier than anticipated and said more than 95 percent of the New Zealand population has access to 3G.

“4G is a better service and our 90 percent requirement ensures that many rural people have access to the same level of services as people in urban areas,” Bridges said.

Vodafone said its 4G coverage was now at 94 percent of the population and it was committed to reaching 99 percent, but gave no target date. In its announcement Vodafone talked up carrier aggregation — combining spectrum in different frequency bands to deliver higher bandwidth services — and small cell technology.

Vodafone said carrier aggregation had been enabled across 40 percent of its network. Carrier aggregation is a feature of both LTE-A and LTE-A Pro.

Vodafone technology director, Tony Brown said small cell technology was a key area of the company’s research and development and was being trialled in solar-powered Moonshine Valley prototype.

“Small cells are like mini cell sites that can operate completely off-the-grid, delivering super-fast 4G broadband and mobile coverage to hard-to-reach communities that have previously had nothing,” he said.

“We’re hugely excited about the potential of small cells to extend our coverage footprint even further across New Zealand – particularly in rural areas where rugged landscapes are notorious for blocking mobile signals.”

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