Vodafone's 4G network performs reasonably well, but one of the challenges in managing any 4G network is expanding its reach as more people use it. Vodafone's solution? It will "refarm" some of its existing 850MHz spectrum, currently used for 3G, for 4G instead.
Vodafone chief technology officer Benoit Hanssen outlined the plans during a media briefing in Sydney today. "It will provide a big boost to our 4G coverage in a very short period of time," he said.
Currently, Vodafone has a 10MHz band of 850MHz spectrum. Half of that will now be allocated to 4G. To ensure 3G performance isn't degraded, there will still be 900MHz spectrum allocated to the 3G band. At some point in 2015, Vodafone expects to convert the other half of the 850MHz band, though it hasn't set a firm timetable.
Vodafone calculates this will give it 95 per cent coverage for 4G in five major metropolitan areas by the end of the year: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. (No such claim is being made for non-metropolitan areas, though realistically big cities are where the majority of Australia's population live.)
One advantage of sub-1GHz frequencies for 4G is that they generally perform better in dealing with building-dense areas. Unlike Telstra and Optus, Vodafone doesn't have any of the 700MHz spectrum that was freed up when analogue TV was shut down. That means it needs to rely on its existing 850MHz holding.
One advantage of that approach is that most current handsets already support 850MHz, while only a couple of current models (the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One Mate) support 700MHz. That means most customers will see an immediate potential benefit once refarming happens in their area. "We're addressing an already established installed base, while in 700MHz you will have to actually buy a new phone or a new device to get the benefit," Hanssen said.