The New Zealand arm of global mobile giant Vodafone today pushed the button on its Long Term Evolution 4G network, with partial coverage in the country's largest city Auckland.
In 2010, Vodafone said it expected to launch an LTE network by early 2014, and held discussions about sharing it with competitors Telecom NZ and 2 Degrees but it has since gone out on its own.
A key enabler for the new LTE network was Vodafone's acquisition of TelstraClear last year, which gave the company access to further spectrum in the 1800 MHz band.
"Being able to have that spectrum meant we could accelerate the build [of the LTE network]," Vodafone's chief executive Russell Stanners said at today's launch event in Auckland.
New Zealand will auction off management rights for 'waterfront' 700 MHz spectrum next year, and Vodafone is keen to bid for those, Stanners said.
The 700 MHz spectrum would be used to improve rural connectivity rather than for LTE, Stanners said, as Vodafone believes the 1800 MHz band is ideal for use in cities.
He declined to say if Telecom NZ's recent LTE trials in three cities around the country had forced Vodafone's hand and pushed it towards an early launch.
Stanners said Vodafone's thinking behind the new network is to provide the best possible experience for customers and also to ensure they're safe without receiving bill shocks when they use it.
However, Vodafone will not introduce any new plans with large data caps, as it expects users to not go through more than one to two gigabytes a month on LTE.
"Our current packages that we have are more than sufficient for users," Stanners said.
Vodafone is basing this figure on usage statistics from NZ and overseas. He believes customers will only use the LTE network for light duty and revert to DSL and fibre for more data hungry applications.
Initially, the LTE network will be available as a NZ$10 add-on for on-contract and business customers, but not for prepay ones, Stanners said.
The LTE service is expected to provide 20-40 Mbps downloads for customers, according to Stanners and is the only network in New Zealand that's on Apple's approved list.
Apart from select Apple devices, Vodafone is launching the LTE network with the HTC Windows Phone 8X and Samsung Galaxy Note 4G. It expects to have 12 LTE capable devices by the middle of the year.
Stanners said there are already 65,000 LTE-capable devices on Vodafone's network.
Nokia-Siemens is Vodafone's supplier for the LTE network which is capable of 150 Mbps downloads and 50 Mbps uploads under ideal conditions.
Built by NSN as a Single Radio Access Network the LTE service is based on the company's Flexi Multiradio Base Station.
Voice will not go over the LTE service however as this will be used purely for data.
Currently, Vodafone's LTE network covers a third of Auckland and will expand to the capital Wellington and the south island city of Christchurch later this year.