The State of Mobile Technology in Australia

It’s hard to keep up with the 2Gs and the 4Gs and the 4G Plus, and 4GX…. I could go on. Here’s a quick guide;

GSM

  • The original ‘2G’ standard from back in 1991.
  • Accounts for 90% marketshare in 220 countries
  • GSM phones and devices have a SIM card, making it easy as pie to swap devices in less than a few minutes.

CDMA

  • CDMA is only a U.S. thing now, everywhere else is GSM
  • Telstra ran the CDMA network in Australia, and flicked the off switch back in 2008.

1G

This was the first generation of GSM, and it was an analog technology.

2G

2G stands for “second generation”. It’s an old technology, so is really just a fall back when 3G and 4G coverage is unavailable.

  • 2G was digital (rather than analog)
  • Voice only – you can’t browse the web while on a call if you’re on 2G.
  • SMS!
  • Slow – GSM introduced a GPRS based packet data network in 2001, with a max speed of around 60-80kbps (downlink), equating to a download speed of 10kB/s – slightly faster than dial-up.
    EDGE was later introduced as a bolt-on protocol (no new technology was required) increasing the data rate of the 2G network to around 237kbps (29kB/s).

Australian 2G bands:

  • 900MHz – Telstra, Optus & Vodafone
  • 1800MHz (Telstra, Optus & Vodafone all use this band for 4G instead)

Telstra plan to switch off all 2G-900 by end of 2016 to make the spectrum available for 4G.

3G

  • Introduced higher transfer rates, up to 200 kbit/sec, and later versions could achieve multiple megabits per second.
  • Allows for simultaneous voice calls and data
  • Started with 3 in 2003, then entering a sharing agreement with Telstra
  • Next G launches in 2006

There are several 3G networks operating in Australia.
3G frequencies are usually specified as UMTS/HSDPA or WCDMA frequencies on the mobile phone specifications.

Australian 3G bands:

  • 850MHz – Telstra
  • 900MHz – Optus, Vodafone – available in most metro areas on Optus, with both Optus and Vodafone re-farming the 2G 900 spectrum in regional and rural areas
  • 2100MHz – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone

3G also got faster, with HSPA (a merge of two technologies):

  • High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)
  • High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA)

‘4G’

  • ‘Fourth Generation’, but much more of a marketing term. In Australia, we call LTE 4G.
    (Overseas, e.g. the USA, some carriers will call their 3G with ‘HSPA’ 4G. Just to confuse you)

LTE

  • Stands for Long Term Evolution
  • Often called 4G LTE
  • Increases bandwidth available for voice and data communications by using a different radio interface combined with a number of network improvements

Carriers in Australia own a variety of spectrum in different frequencies;

  • 2100MHz (B1) FDD – Telstra (a handful of sites), Optus (Darwin, Tasmania)
  • 1800MHz (B3) FDD – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone
  • 850MHz (B5) FDD – Vodafone
  • 2600MHz (B7) FDD – Optus, Telstra. (TPG have a license but have not announced plans for it.)
  • 900MHz (B8) FDD – Telstra (a handful of sites, utilises spectrum previously used by 2G)
  • 700MHz (B28) FDD – Telstra, Optus. (also known as 4GX)
  • 2300MHz (B40) TDD  – Optus (old Vivid wireless spectrum)

4GX?

Marketing term used by Telstra for their 700mhz network to easily differentiate for new devices. 
(If your device supports 700MHz/Band 28 – it’s a 4GX device). Doesn’t show on the device anywhere

4G Plus?

Marketing term used by Optus for their entire network.
Previously used for Optus’ 4G network in Canberra, where they only had access to 2300MHz (Band 40) for the initial rollout, not the more common 1800MHz (Band 3) – so it was a way to differentiate for purchasing devices.

Now used to cover the entire Optus 4G network.

4G in more places?

Marketing term used by Optus to identify support for 700mhz (Band 28).

4G+?

Marketing term used by Vodafone for their small 850MHz (Band 5) LTE footprint 

VoLTE

  • VoLTE is a voice technology that just works over your LTE data connection rather than dropping back to 3G
    (if you’re currently on LTE and make a call, you’ll drop back to 3G/2G to make the call before returning back to LTE afterwards)
  • Vodafone, Optus and Telstra on track to launch in 2015

Wi-Fi Calling

  • Not available for any Australian carriers

 

Sources:
Whirlpool
– Telstra timeline
– Telcoantennas