Telecom will being trialling 4G LTE technology tomorrow in Wellington, Auckland, the Hawkes Bay and Rotorua using a variety of spectrum and vendors.
The Auckland trial will be conducted by Huawei on the North Shore and will involve 2600MHz spectrum. The Wellington trial will be in Lower Hutt, be conducted by Alcatel Lucent and also involve 2600MHz spectrum.
Alcatel Lucent will also conduct a trial in the Hawkes Bay trial using 700MHz spectrum, which has been made available following the switchover to digital television. This spectrum has not been officially allocated, but a Telecom spokesperson says the company has been given special permission by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to use 700MHz in Waipukurau for a limited time
Huawei will trial 1800MHz and 2600MHz frequencies in a small area in Rotorua.
The first phase of the trial will run until mid-February and will examine how the network performs. The second phase, which runs from mid-February to March, will involve customers who will be asked to test 4G-LTE capable devices.
Telecom says it has rolled out dual carrier HSPA+ to almost 30 percent of its network and plans to extend this to nearly 50 percent in the New Year.
Telecom CEO Simon Moutter told Computerworld last month that 700MHz spectrum provides significantly better coverage than higher bands. He says that in the 1800MHz spectrum the signal range in an urban area is 200-500 metres; with 700MHz the signal range in rural areas is 7-10 kilometres.
"We can use 1800MHz and 2100MHz, and we can go 4G in those other bands. But 700MHz will give so much better performance and coverage that it is the natural band where you want to build," he says.
"The key plank there around timing is the device ecosystem and who's going to turn up with 700MHz 4G capability built into it. That's the piece I'm the least clear on, because there is not much point in building a network if there are no devices that will work on it."
The 1800MHz spectrum is being used by Telstra in Australia in its rollout of 4G services, so there are devices available in that band.
Vodafone and CallPlus
The use of 2600MHz spectrum in Telecom's trials is interesting because Vodafone is also considering using this band for 4G/LTE services.
Vodafone chief strategy officer Zac Summers says that operators look for a high band/low band combination.
"You want a low band that you use for coverage, but in the cities you need additional capacity so you use a higher band," he says.
Vodafone has used spectrum in the 900MHz band together with 2100MHz in the cities for its 3G rollout. It may consider a combination for 4G using 700MHz complemented with 2600MHz.
Vodafone recently did a spectrum swap with CallPlus, which effectively gave both parties two sets of 15MHz blocks of 2600MHz spectrum band.
* For more on the telcos' 4G strategies and for full transcripts of interviews download the eBook After Structural Separation, available at amazon.com.