Optus has strengthened its ties with China’s biggest mobile carrier as it gears up for a rapid acceleration of its 4G rollout.
Australia’s number two carrier has joined the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI), an alliance that aims to develop and promote China’s homegrown variant of superfast 4G mobile technology, TD-LTE (time-division long-term evolution).
China Mobile, the biggest carrier in the world’s most populous country, with about 700 million mobile subscribers, has been instrumental in the development of TD-LTE, which is gaining increasing traction throughout Asia. The technology, which Telstra considered but decided against using, is expected to support an increasing number of devices and a broader ecosystem of applications and services in coming years. The iPhone 5 does not support the technology but there is rampant speculation China Mobile could sign a deal with Apple later this year or in early 2013 to support a version of the device.
Optus has now switched on 4G services in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Newcastle metropolitan areas using the same variant of the superfast technology as Telstra. Its overall footprint is smaller than Telstra’s, which currently covers about 40 per cent of the population in all capital cities and many regional centres. But Optus plans to increase its 4G footprint, in part through a rollout of TD-LTE services from the beginning of 2013, using the spectrum it gained through the $230 million purchase of Kerry Stokes’s vividwireless in February. Once completed, Optus will have a dual band 4G offering it believes will be well placed to compete with Telstra. The incumbent, Optus’s bitter rival, has used network quality to charge a premium for mobile services.
The GTI includes some of the world’s biggest mobile carriers including China Mobile, Japan’s Softbank, India’s Bharti Airtel and the UK’s Vodafone. It also includes NBN Co – which is using TD-LTE for its fixed wireless and satellite services in remote areas – as well as suppliers such as China’s Huawei Technologies, Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent.
Optus’s managing director of networks, Gunther Ottendorfer, who has visited China Mobile and Japan’s Softbank in recent months, said the alliance would enable the carrier to deliver the latest innovations in 4G to Australian customers
“We will have first-hand information about what’s going on in TD-LTE globally, and good access to suppliers and greater collaboration with other carriers,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
Telstra recently said it would accelerate its 4G rollout, spending $400 million to expand its coverage to two-thirds of the population by June 2013. At its annual results briefing, Telstra CEO David Thodey revealed that the incumbent considered using TD-LTE technology but decided against it.
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