VHA to rip-and-replace all network base stations

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VHA to rip-and-replace all network base stations

Huawei's major breakthrough into the Aussie market.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia has announced it will replace base station equipment at all 5,800 existing 2G and 3G sites with gear from Chinese vendor Huawei.

The announcement signalled a major network revamp designed to address performance issues that affected Vodafone customers since late last year.

It also signaled the heavyweight entrance into the Australian market Huawei had been looking for.

A Huawei spokesman told iTnews the vendor would double staff numbers in Australia, adding 300 new technical staff to support the rollout.

It would also require the services of around 200 sub-contractors, the spokesman said.

Huawei's kit – consisting of SingleRAN base stations and radio network controllers (RNCs) – would replace base station technology from incumbents Ericsson and Nokia-Siemens Networks (NSN).

Vodafone's urban 3G network had run using NSN gear while Ericsson base stations were used for regional 3G services and VHA's entire 2G network.

An Ericsson spokesman declined to comment. NSN did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Deploying Huawei's SingleRAN base station technology would give VHA an obvious upgrade path to Long Term Evolution (LTE), which boasted benefits including increased spectral efficiency and speed gains.

VHA has been optimistic in its assessments of LTE in the 1800 MHz band – and its technology choice today gave a clear indication that it was primed for a future commercial rollout.

"The trials of the technology we ran last year were very successful, achieving speeds of up to 73Mbps with the new Huawei equipment in place," VHA said in a statement today.

"As devices become available we will be able to rollout LTE right across both of our 3G networks."

In the meantime, VHA would focus on its Vodafone network assets. By the end of the base station upgrade project – scheduled to run 18 months – it was anticipated the network would span some 8,000 base stations.

They would be capable of peak speeds of 42 Mbps, VHA said.

VHA had previously announced it was building an 850 MHz mobile network that would have 1,500 base stations when completed.

VHA will also deploy Huawei radio network controllers (RNCs) at sites in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, an Huawei spokesman told iTnews.

The controllers were designed to control and optimise network performance.

"We're installing the latest technology from the company that we believe is the best network hardware and software vendor in the world to deliver a better mobile experience to our customers," VHA chief Nigel Dews said.

"We've got a lot of work to do but we have a very clear picture of what needs to be done.

"We start immediately so many customers should start to see and experience real improvements in the network."

Performance post-mortem

Today's announcements also contained a few small insights into what caused Vodafone's network issues last year.

The company conceded that "explosive growth" in smartphones and mobile broadband "could have been better supported by earlier coverage and capacity upgrades."

But it continued to put some of the blame on "technical faults" such as a previously-known software glitch.

VHA chief technology officer Michael Young said another problem discovered in the network was that "some of the new and upgraded sites were either resetting autonomously or interfering with other neighbouring sites – causing intermittent and immediate disruptions to voice and data traffic for some customers."

"Correcting those immediate software and technical issues has been our first priority in largely stabilising the network in recent weeks," he said.

"We are also continuing to work through rapidly injecting more capacity and coverage into the network as well as rolling out our new network and upgrades."

Young said that extensive drive testing of the network was ongoing.

VHA has also appointed Barry Kezik as its new general manager for network performance "with responsibility for ensuring voice and data services perform at their highest level."

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