Phones connected to Spark’s Central Christchurch mobile site can now download data at 1Gbps. Or, to be more accurate, they will when the hardware arrives in New Zealand later this year.
Spark has worked with Huawei to upgrade its Central Christchurch cell-site to 4.5G. The company’s Hereford Street building houses the Pacific region’s first commercial 4.5G site. It is one of the world’s first non-test 4.5G sites.
At the network launch today, Spark New Zealand managing director Simon Moutter says: “We built the network well ahead of the devices. One of the key things is to learn from this. We’ll build other sites later in the year.”
Gigabit wireless in New Zealand
Spark’s general manager, networks Colin Brown demonstrated the network’s ability to deliver gigabit speeds. He used special equipment for the demonstration. In the live test, download speeds reached 1.12Gbps. Brown said overnight the test gear recorded a peak of 1.25Gbps.
While 1Gbps is the 4.5G headline speed that’s not what most user will see when they connect. Brown says people will see speeds that are; “three of four times what you see today”.
The key to 4.5G speeds is the technology’s ability to use spectrum in different bands at the same time. The telecom industry calls this carrier aggregation. It also uses multiple antennae simultaneously to boost capacity.
With 4.5G data speeds and capacity increase at the same time.
Huawei New Zealand CEO Jason We says beside boosting data speeds, a 4.5G cell site can service ten times as many users as a 4G site.
Using 2300 MHz spectrum
One of the four spectrum bands used to deliver Spark’s 4.5G service is the 2300MHz block once owned by Woosh Wireless. The Commerce Commission cleared Spark to buy the spectrum at the end of March.
Moutter say it took just a matter of weeks to pull the 4.5G demonstration together. He says; “It demonstrates what we had our eyes on and why we were keen to acquire the Woosh spectrum.”
Because 4.5G is, in effect, a software upgrade to the 4G network, Spark could move fast.
Recipe for a 4.5G network
Brown says for a 4.5G roll-out Spark needs four things: “Above all else you need the software. We have this from Huawei and will be rolling out elsewhere between now and Christmas.
“The second thing you need is the antennae. You have to install them at the sites. To make 4.5G work you also need improved backhaul to take data traffic from the cell site to the internet. Generally speaking you need gigabit backhaul. You also need to devices”.
Huawei’s Wu says his company will be bringing 4.5G ready devices to New Zealand later this year.
Spark’s 4.5G project is the latest fruit from the company’s joint innovation programme with Huawei. Previously the two built the world’s first commercial 4G network using 700 MHz spectrum
At the Christchurch launch David Wei, President Huawei South Pacific, says that earlier partnership pushed the boundaries of technology.
He says: “Today we continue that tradition with New Zealand’s first 4.5G giga site. For us one of the best parts of this partnership is that we are able to deliver technologies which until very recently only existed in our research and development labs.”
Spark and Huawei agree that video will be the big application on the 4.5G network. Wei says: “4.5G can support rich content streaming and true 4K video. It will be used to create a strong network supporting the emerging internet-of-things”.
Video made the radio star
Moutter says for practical 4K streaming video, a network must deliver a consistent 15Mpbs.
Brown says one aspect of 4.5G is the 2300 MHz spectrum can be configured with TDD (time-division duplexing). He says this means the spectrum can be optimised for downloading. This is an arrangement that works well with video traffic.
TDD is also used by a lot of fixed wireless broadband services. The potential for a 4.5G network to deliver fibre-like speeds to fixed wireless broadband customers could change the nature of services in rural New Zealand and present Chorus and the other fibre network companies with a serious challenge.
4.5G means bigger data caps
A network capable of 1Gbps downloads could mean customers will chew through monthly mobile data caps in seconds.
Moutter says: “The additional capacity of the 4.5G network is significant. It allows use to expand usage bundles at economic prices”. In other words: expect to see more generous monthly data allowances from Spark as the new network rolls out nationwide.
He offered insight into the pricing of mobile data saying Skinny’s Wireless Broadband which gives users 60GB of data for $55 would have been impossible just two years ago. The same applies to Spark’s wireless broadband product.
Moutter says: “Spectrum has been the constraining asset. We’ve invested in buying more spectrum. Using aggregation is the key to getting more from our investment”.
Moutter says Spark chose to use Christchurch as a demonstration site because it “wanted to do something special for the region.
He says Canterbury area is one of the first to be updated with 700 MHz spectrum services. He says: “We’re close to half-way done with that.
“After the earthquake we had to move the network around in Christchurch. Much of it, indeed much of the city, moved out to the edge. Now we want to focus on bringing technology back to the centre of the city. This was a good opportunity to commit to the rebuild”.
You can see the Spark 4.5 antennae on the top of the Hereford Street building in the photo at the top of the page.