Spark is working on deploying "4.5G" mobile broadband, by joining up different radio spectrum channels and using new, complex antennae and modulation tech for superfast connections, like 1.15 gigabits per second.

Vodafone New Zealand got Mike Whiddett to skid around a racing track last year with the windscreen covered and front vision provided through 4G connected tablets in the car.

That's all great, but I bet Mike's tablets weren't on a typical Vodafone NZ data plan with just a few gigabytes to burn through, or else the stunt might have ended badly.

Yes, I've been looking at mobile data plans again, and am grumpy about them.


It's true that Vodafone's 4G coverage and service has improved over the last year, especially when I'm out in the sticks. Wasn't that long ago when I only got 3G that worked when there weren't too many people connected to the same cell site. During school holidays, the mobile service in my area would fall over completely and I'm glad that's no longer the case.

Spark which claims 90 per cent 4G coverage doesn't work at all in my corner of Northland.

Even if there was Spark coverage in my area, it's not like you could connect at those blazing 4.5G speeds for very long, ditto on Vodafone and 2 Degrees.

Also, I don't know about you, but $80 a month is quite a bit of money for a service that you use with one eye on the meter.


At the moment, I pay Vodafone $80 a month. For that I get a meagre 7.5GB of data.
Funnily enough, Spark charges the same for 7.5GB, or you could go with the incumbent's budget operator Skinny Direct and 6GB for $50 per month, and top up with 1GB for a tenner.

2 Degrees has the best deals, either $70 a month for 7GB, or $90 for 10GB - and unused bits of your data allowances are carried over each month - but they need to add a zero to those caps before I get excited enough to switch.

Also, I don't know about you, but $80 a month is quite a bit of money for a service that you use with one eye on the meter.

I'd like to know that I could use the fast 4G connection whenever I needed to, and avoid often insecure Wifi networks, or use it as a backup should the fixed broadband line cark it.

Maybe I'd want to watch Netflix or whatever on my 4G connection, you know, because it's 2017 and we do wild things like that.

Sure, if I do run out of data, Vodafone will let me buy more. Let's see, do I pay $6 for 100MB, $12 for 500MB or a whopping $20 for a minute 1GB? Great choice there.

I've heard the argument that if the telcos were to add decent-sized data caps to their subscriber plans, their fast 4G networks would become overloaded, slow down, and become unusable.

In countries where there is stiffer telco competition, that doesn't seem to happen, and you can even get unlimited 4G accounts in those.

Over in Aotearoa however, the must-have feature on your smartphone is the Wifi connection because that's what it'll use most of the time, and not the fancy-schmancy 4G LTE network.

It makes business sense for the telcos to do it this way, as they can sell you both a mobile data plan and a fixed broadband connection. Otherwise people, especially those on a budget, might be tempted to just buy a 4G connection with a biggish data cap only.

In other words, superfast 4G, 4.5G, LTE Advanced Pro, carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM are pretty meaningless technologies for us, until the telcos up the data caps substantially. Don't hold your breath for that to happen though.

Update: A reader reminded me that Spark has a fixed wireless 4G service that the telco runs over its mobile network.

Spark has no problem offering data caps of 60GB and 120GB on the Home Wireless Broadband service, charging $85 and $95 a month respectively.

Via its Skinny subsidiary, Spark offers 40GB and 100GB 4G fixed wireless broadband connections, for $40 and $52 respectively. Imagine getting something like those plans for mobile users.