Vodafone commits to $500 million mobile investment

By Matt Greenop

Vodafone today announced expansion of its 3G mobile network, which it says will bring its total infrastructure investment to half a billion dollars.

At the TUANZ Rural Broadband Symposium, Vodafone's Tom Chignell told conference goes that the faster mobile network will cover 97 per cent of New Zealand by 2010.

This would allow customers in current mobile coverage areas access to high-speed mobile internet. Vodafone's 3G network footprint is now around 63 per cent of New Zealand.

"This means broadband will be available on customers' mobiles and it can be used as a cost effective home solution especially in areas where no land line based broadband is available," says Chignell.

"Many of those in rural New Zealand who are stuck on dialup internet will have access to world class broadband services and be able to enjoy all the benefits that these services will bring.

"It will change the way New Zealanders think about accessing the internet; by improving devices and offering lower prices eg a dollar a day for 10Mb of data, we are making broadband accessible to all."

While the network expansion will allow some in rural areas that are otherwise unable to get high speed internet access, mobile data costs are still significantly higher than landline-based services.

Vodafone chief marketing officer Mark Rushworth says that customers can expect download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps depending on their areas.

Further improvements to the network will see maximum downlink speeds of 28.8Mbps and 11.5Mpbs upstream with the HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) protocol.

The improvements will benefit users of internet-capable mobile devices - like Apple's iPhone 3G, which Vodafone will launch in New Zealand on July 11 - and those in remote areas, who can connect laptops or other computers using 3G network cards or USB 'Vodem' modems.

Vodafone expects to have the higher speed network to the 97 per cent benchmark by April 2010.

It is unclear where the remaining 3 per cent actually is, but Rushworth says that highly isolated areas are often served using 'Cows', which are basically portable cell sites used to extend coverage. These are often used during holiday periods.

The 3G investment also marks another step towards next-generation mobile internet Long Term Evolution (LTE) in coming years, which will give users almost five times HSPA speed.

There is currently debate in telecommunications circles over whether LTE will be the best solution, or its competing system called Wimax. Although the two are very similar, camps are divided by corporate allegiances.

Today's announcement indicates that Vodafone will use Long Term Evolution, and Rushworth confirmed that Vodafone has trials of the ultra-high speed protocol planned for the near future.

"There has been a lot of talk about WiMax over the years, but it looks like LTE is going to be the favoured approach," he said.

"It appears that LTE is going to be the correct path for us to take."

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