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The CDMA turnoff - where to now? The CDMA turnoff - where to now?

19 July 2007
Written by David Hall

The Telstra CDMA network was introduced in 2000 after the analogue mobile network was switched off - leaving many users in regional Australia without network coverage. The CDMA network offered coverage in areas where the GSM network did not reach, and eventually provided wireless broadband to regional areas where ADSL and other broadband technologies were not available.

In 2005 Telstra announced that it would be switching off its CDMA network in coming years, replacing it with a new, high speed 3G network - which we now call Next G. The $1billion Next G network is based on HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) technology that is designed to increase data transfer speeds and network capacity for UMTS-based networks.

The new network
The Next G network operates on the 850MHz band, which was selected over the ‘regular' 2100MHz 3G band because it can cover much larger geographical distances. Telstra have said that the Next G network covers approximately 98% of the Australian population. The network was implemented under contract by Ericsson, and when first launched it was capable of approximately 3.6Mbit/s downlink, but has now been upgraded to 14.4Mbit/s. Future upgrades could provide downlink speeds of up to 42Mbit/s.

Where to now?
Shortly after the network launched in October 2006, customers on pre-paid and contract CDMA services received letters and brochures detailing how they could receive a free (and/or paid) upgrade to a Next G compatible handset. At first there were only 6 ‘approved' Next G handsets and no pre-pay options, but this has now grown to 11 phones/PDA's and pre-paid Next G services (at time of writing).

Pre-paid CDMA customers that wish to stay with their pre-pay arrangement can upgrade to the Next G compatible LG TU500 or Telstra 256. The option to move from pre-paid to a plan is also offered, opening up the option to select any of the other 9 handsets.

For more information on upgrading to Next G from the CDMA network, visit Telstra's dedicated CDMA Upgrade website here: http://www.telstra.com.au/cdmaupgrade.

What about other carriers?
Upgrading to a Next G handset and the HSDPA-enabled network is not the only choice. Other carriers such as Vodafone, Optus, and Three have nationwide 2G and 3G networks that may just provide coverage in your area. Many have also started rolling out high-speed HSDPA services in capital cities.

Three currently offers HSDPA speeds in its ‘3 Broadband Zone'. The theoretical maximum speed on Three's HSDPA services is 3.6Mbit/s. HSDPA enabled devices currently offered on Three include the Dopod D810, Dopod 838Pro, Dopod 595, and the LG U830. A laptop and USB modem supporting HSDPA can also be purchased. For coverage information, click here. Outside of 3's Broadband Zone customers roam onto the Telstra GSM network, which covers approximately 96% of the Australian population.

The Vodafone 2G (GSM) network covers 99.53% of Australia's metropolitan areas, and 94.52% of the entire Australian population. Vodafone launched HSDPA services on its 3G network in late 2006 in Sydney and Melbourne, and have been expanding ever since. A press release earlier this month stated that a major upgrade to the network has introduced HSDPA to customers in greater metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Adelaide, and Perth.

The latest upgrade to the network sees downlink speeds boosted to the 3.6Mbit/s standard, with real life figures anywhere from 600kbp/s to 1.5Mbit/s. The rollout is set to continue and the New South Wales' Central Coast should have HSDPA available by September this year.

Coverage information for Vodafone's 2G and 3G services can be found here (http://www.vodafone.com.au/Personal/CoverageRoaming/AustralianCoverage/index.htm).

Optus, Telstra's biggest rival, currently cover approximately 650,000kms of landmass and more than 96% of the population with their 2G and 3G services in Australia. As Optus' CDMA services utilise the Telstra CDMA network, customers on Optus CDMA will find that they will also need to upgrade to the 3G network or find a new carrier before the network is shut down.

The Optus 3G network covers much of the Australian population, and their HSDPA rollout sees areas of Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney covered. Currently, 55% of the Australian population is covered by high-speed wireless broadband, and Optus plans to have 96% of the Australian population covered with HSDPA services by 2010.

For Optus coverage maps click here, or for HSDPA-only maps click here.

There's no doubt that Telstra provide some of the best coverage in Australia for regional areas, but some of these areas may just be covered by another carrier - giving you choice in your move from the old CDMA network.

The Telstra CDMA network will officially cease operation on the 28th January 2008. Users that have not upgraded to a Next G handset or moved to another carrier will practically be left without mobile services.

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