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Telstra's plans for future network - What's New? Telstra's plans for future network

30 November 2005
Reported by Albert Malik

A little over two weeks ago Telstra released the results of its strategic review and announced, amongst other things, that it was going to shut down all its current mobile networks and run one, single standard network for all of Australia. Many people are concerned how Telstra plans to pull the whole changeover off, and here at iMobile we’ve gathered a few facts that should help everyone understand what Telstra are planning to do.

Under the direction of new CEO Sol Trujillo, Telstra have decided that they will shut down their CDMA network and build a new 3G W-CDMA (or 3GSM) network on the 850 MHz band – the one currently used for CDMA – to replace it. Telstra will not shut down their GSM network. Rather, they will upgrade it with EDGE functionality, allowing many GSM handsets already sold in Australia to achieve packet data download speeds of up to 150kbps, as compared to the 48kbps speed of GPRS. Telstra will unify their core architecture so that there is one core set of infrastructure that operates GSM on the 900/1800 MHz bands and W-CDMA on the 850/2100 MHz bands. This is as opposed to three different sets of infrastructure running GSM 900/1800, CDMA 850 and W-CDMA 2100 at the moment.

Telstra’s ultimate aim is to eventually have all their customers using a handset that connects to the W-CDMA 850 MHz service. Using the 850MHz band will allow Telstra to cover the same area as its CDMA network does today, and eventually an even larger area. Telstra’s current CDMA network covers 1.6 million square kilometres, and Telstra plan to equal, and eventually surpass that level of coverage with their new 3GSM, W-CDMA 850 network.

One of the biggest problems with the migration to the new network would be your handset. No mobile handset in Australia sold today is compatible with an 850MHz W-CDMA network. So what happens when Telstra switches off all the old networks in the years to come? Telstra is hoping that by the end of 2006 dualband 850/2100 MHz 3G handsets will be available, and since everyone upgrades their handset on average every 18 months according to Telstra, many people will have a compatible handset by the time the new network is live. But rural users aren’t as likely to upgrade their phone so often, so Telstra is expected to provide subsidies for them to encourage upgrading to a new phone. For those users who use the CDMA EV-DO network for broadband internet access, Telstra has promised to mail out brand-new, compatible datacards so they can stay connected.

Another problem is the lack of enthusiasm on the part of people in the bush. It’s been six years since the analogue network was closed down and people forced to upgrade to CDMA phones, and the prospect of yet another network being closed and forced handset upgrades isn’t very enticing. The government is yet to be convinced that Telstra can provide the same coverage with the new 3G networks as with the CDMA one. With the new network, Telstra wants to take the opportunity to provide new features such as video calling, fast internet access and video streaming to the rural community. And Telstra won’t just be installing standard 384kbps W-CDMA – it is planning to start the network with the fast HSDPA upgrade installed. HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) will eventually allow a W-CDMA network to send data to a handset at approximately 3 – 6 mbps, although when Telstra launches it at first it’s expected to start much slower at around 550kbps – 1.1mbps, and slowly work its way up to higher speeds.

Telstra is hoping to start operating the new 3G network by late 2006, and have the entire CDMA footprint of 1.6 million square kilometres serviced by late 2007. Telstra hasn’t yet given a date for the potential closure of the CDMA network, but says that it will begin encouraging CDMA subscribers to move to the W-CDMA 850 network from its launch until approximately the end of 2008.

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