Optus switches on 1Gbps '4.5G' network in Sydney

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Optus switches on 1Gbps '4.5G' network in Sydney

Macquarie Park first in line for LTE-A.

Optus has rolled out what it's calling a 4.5G network in Macquarie Park in northern Sydney capable of 1Gbps theoretical speeds, in what it describes as “a step toward 5G”.

The carrier said its 4.5G network — which is made up of around 20 base stations — had been able to achieve test speeds of around 1Gbps using purpose-built Huawai fixed mobile modems across its 10-square kilometre footprint.

What Optus has dubbed 4.5G refers to LTE Advanced Pro, or LTE-A, the term approved by mobile standards body 3GPP to denote the next stage of development towards 5G.

The Optus 4.5G network would give 4G devices within the network footprint an immediate speed boost of up to four times their current capacity, according to Optus. It said it expected 4.5G capable mobile devices to become more commonly available over the next 12 months.

The fixed mobile modes are currently only available to a limited number of trial users, Optus network planning chief Kent Wu said.

The carrier said it would roll out the 4.5G capacity upgrade across 70 percent of its network within the next year. Optus currently has 4G enabled across around 87 per cent of mobile network.

It declined to reveal when it would undertake a full commercial launch of LTE-A.

Optus' 4.5G and 5G rollout plans would complement its recent investment in content rights for sports such as the English Premier League and agreements it has struck with the Australian Olympic Committee and Swimming Australia.

“We want to be a mobile multimedia company but let’s be real — in the minds of Australians we are a first and foremost a telco. We are in the connectivity business and we have to get this right because if we don’t get the basic connectivity product right we do not have license from our customers to go into media,” CEO Allan Lew said.

Lew said that expanding the carrier’s mobile network and improving its capacity to carry video had been his main focus during his tenure.

Optus networks chief Dennis Wong said Optus had chosen the Macquarie Park district - Optus' headquarters - for its initial 4.5G rollout as the area provides a useful cross section of operating environments including Macquarie Centre, Macquarie University, and a large chunk of one of Sydney’s technological and industrial districts. 

Race to 5G

Lew said the carrier’s 4.5G network rollout would lay the foundation for its 5G network ambitions, calling it a critical part of Optus' $7.2 billion investment program.

He said the investment program was designed to help Optus meet its aim of transforming from a pure telco player to a credible competitor in the media space.

The carrier is expecting its 5G rollout to utilise its 3.5GHz spectrum in line with expected global standards to be finalised later this year.

“We’ve got it. I challenge you to figure out who else has got it in this country,” Lew said.

Optus’ main rival in the mobile space, Telstra, has already started trialling 5G.

Telstra early last year demonstrated in Melbourne that the technology was capable of theoretical speeds up to 10Gbps over a short line-of-sight using 800MHz of spectrum in the 15GHz band.

Both Telstra’s 5G trials and Optus’s 4.5G network use so-called “beam forming” techniques which allow devices to be given dedicated beams of capacity, rather than sharing with nearby competing devices.

5G is widely expected to reach commercial maturity in 2020.

Update: An Optus spokesperon confirmed the telco is using a total of 55MHz of bandwidth for the 4.5G trial. This is divided into one 15MHz wide channel in the 1800MHz band, one at 2600MHz, and a further two in the 2300MHz band for four-channel carrier aggregation.

For sites with five-channel CA, Optus can add another 2300MHz channel.

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