Vodafone will start rolling out upgrades to its network that will allow higher speeds for mobile data users.

The company's recently-appointed general manger of networks, Tony Baird, today announced that it will skip two levels of 3G network upgrades and will begin deploying 28.8Mb/s capabilities.

At a press conference in Auckland today, Baird said that perfect conditions would allow speeds near that super-fast maximum, but reality and geography would have a major effect on network pace.

"Having trialled 21Mb/s service in central Auckland earlier this year, we've made the decision to move straight to the faster 28.8Mb/s service," he said.

"If you're close to a base station, and there's not hundreds of other users, you'll get 28.8 megabits."

Baird says the higher speed service will be offered in CBDs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch by the end of this year, and will start rolling out in other areas early next year.

Vodafone's Kursten Shalfoon, general manager of products, pricing and internet services, was less willing to look at the perfect scenario when talking about data speeds.

"When we launch we will say that network capability is 28.8, but real world use is 'x'," he said this morning, "but we haven't defined what 'x' is yet."

Baird also announced that Vodafone will push out the life of its aging GSM network until at least 2020. If there are problems on the 3G network customers default to the 2G network - ensuring, in most cases, that there is no total loss ofservice.

He said that customers value the GSM network as a "fall back position".

"They like the redundancy it offers, so we've made the call to keep the GSM network operational for at least another decade."

Baird, who was chief executive of rural broadband specialist Farmside, said that Vodafone's Rural Broadband Initiative proposal - which combines high-speed fibre with a network partner, as well as wireless - would see huge benefits for country users.

"Rural New Zealand needs more coverage than just home," he said. "It needs high speed broadband, but also needs mobility.

In its bid to launch a 50Mb/s next-generation LTE (Long Term Evolution) network, Vodafone will also test ultra high-speed equipment in Wellington next week.