UPDATE / Feb 12: Telecom's 4G pilot kicked off last night, with Gen-i clients TVNZ, Westpac and TVNZ on the trial (a fourth member of the original trialist lineup, Mainzeal, was quietly dropped from the the list).
4G/LTE will allow for much faster download speeds than we get from today's 3G mobile networks.
The audience duly saw evidence of some stonking upload and download speeds.
To put the screen below in context, 122MBit/s is faster than a UFB fibre landline, and more than 10 times the speed that most people get from 3G today.
Once 4G arrives, you're not going to see that sort of speed. There are only 100 individuals on Telecom's 4G trial, and for a real-life roll-out the airwaves will be more crowded.
Still going by overseas experience, we should see a decent lift in mobile broadband bandwidth.
Not that Telecom is focussing on raw speed.
“We all know that LTE is faster, but what matters most is not the speed in itself, but what that speed allows us to do – and here the possibilities are enormous. We are focussed on what Kiwis, specifically, will choose to do with an 4G LTE network and the customer trials will give us further insights into this,” Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin told NBR.
Down the track, customers will be looking for some 4G-friendly data plans (for while 4G has the bandwidth to allow you to stream a 4G movie to your iPad, that would exhaust the monthly cap on most plans within two hours).
The trial areas are narrow at this stage, taking in an area of Lower Hutt (where Telecom's long-time network partner Alcatel-Lucent is providing the 4G kit) and part of Auckland's North Shore (where, intriguingly, Huawei is getting a look in as the network supplier).
UPDATE / Feb 7, 2013: The latest from Amy Adams' office is that the government's 700MHz/4G-friendly spectrum auction will take place "well before the end of this year."
Previous ballpark deadlines have been late 2012 and early 2013, so don't hold your breath. An iwi spectrum claim has to be dealt with first, and given it has the support of coalition partner the Maori Party, National won't simply brush it off.
In any case, said spectrum won't be fully available until the end of this year when the digital TV changeover is completed.
Meanwhile ... Telecom said today it will kick off its limited 4G/LTE trial next week, utilisting existing spectrum. A launch event will be held Monday night. Trial areas include part of Auckland's North Shore.
Last week, Vodafone said last week it had doubled mobile capacity in Auckland. A network upgrade saw nearly 400 sites upgraded to support dual carrier (which provides a turbo boost for 3G, if you've got a compatible phone or gadget). At the same time, the sites were upgraded to run on both 900MHz and 2100MHz spectrum.
Could the upgrade be seen as a precursor to some kind of 4G launch? I put that to Vodafone earlier this week, amid persistent industry chatter that such a move is close.
A rep replied with the vague: "LTE is clearly an important part of any future communications roadmap, but our big focus at the moment is on extending our use of 42Mbit/s [Dual Carrier 3G] technology."
Huawei gets a look in as Telecom names 4G/LTE partners
UPDATE / Dec 6, 2012: Telecom has named key technology partners for its 4G/LTE trial: longtime supplier Alcatel-Lucent, plus newcomer Huawei.
The company earlier said Mainzeal, Mitre 10, Kiwirail and Countdown/Woolworths operator Progressive Enterprises - all customers of its Gen-i services division - would participate in the trial.
4G allows for much faster mobile data connections than today's 3G networks, although some of the extra bandwidth will be soaked up to the benefit of Telecom (and and other phone companies) as they use it to add capacity by squeezing more customers onto the same number of cellsites, and smartphone users all become bigger data pigs.
Telecom's long-time mobile network partner, Alcatel-Lucent (closely associated with its 3G "XT" upgrade), will conduct a trial on behalf of Telecom in a rural part of southern Hawke’s Bay on 700MHz spectrum (which will become available after the switch over to digital television).
But notably, Huawei also gets a look in. The Chinese company (2degrees' primary partner) will trial 4G/LTE at 1800MHz and 2600MHz frequencies in a small area of Rotorua.
Telecom also says it has selected global telecommunications provider Ericsson to supply equipment for some core equipment on its 3G and coming 4G LTE network.
The trial is very much a trial; the company has already told shareholders it has not allocated capex for a 4G/LTE rollout in its 2013 financial year - and indeed it's highly unlikely any of the 4G-friendly spectrum being auctioned by the government will be available before July next year. Logistical complications have been compounded by an iwi claim to the spectrum, supported by the Maori Party.
CEO Simon Moutter recently confirmed to NBR that Telecom will be competing for 700MHz spectrum auction. 700MHz was easily the most economically efficient band for 4G because it required fewer towers, Mr Moutter said.
Telecom names companies on 4G trial
May 18: Telecom has announced plans to trial 4G/LTE mobile service - which promises much faster mobile data speeds than today's 3G mobile networks.
4G networks are already operational in several countries, including a Telstra roll-out in Australian cities.
And 4G devices have begun to appear on the market, including versions of several high-end Android phones and Apple's new iPad.
Gen-i services division boss Chris Quin told NBR ONLINE there will be at least four large businesses on the trial: Mainzeal, Mitre 10, Kiwirail and Countdown/Woolworths operator Progressive Enterprises.
Mainzeal says it will use the technology for more data collaboration on the go, and mobile video.
Some consumer customers will also be on the trial. Telecom says people will be able to register interest through its website.
The most 4G-friendly spectrum won't become available until a 700MHz government auction later this year (below).
Telecommunications Users Association boss Paul Brislen told NBR that sub-1000MHz frequencies were best for 4G, but that TelstraClear had achieved 10Mbit/s to 20Mbit/s download speeds with its 1800MHz 4G network.
Mr Quin - soon to become Telecom's acting CEO - said Telecom would use its 1800MHz and 2600MHz spectrum in the trial. The company was preparing to bid on 700MHz spectrum later this year.
NBR understands Vodafone will shortly announced its own 4G trial, utilising 1800MHz spectrum.
In the US, where many have encountered 4G speeds for the first time using the new iPad, there have been a number of instances of bill shock.
With 4G bandwidth, a consumer could rip through a month's data cap in two hours if, say, downloading a movie.
Mr Quin said corporates were already on "bucket of data" plans that saw one large amount of mobile data shared among many users, with economies of scale.
This approached scaled down to smaller businesses. Telecom would be keeping a watching brief during the trial.
An RFI has just gone out seeking potential partners for the trial, which will late place later this year.
Around December, the government will auction spectrum feed up by the analogue-to-digital switchover.
All players are manoevering for an inside advantage.
2degrees, for example, wants a special allocation "at a fair price" to help it expand against more established rivals; an iwi group has a Treaty claim on the airwaves up for bidding, and Kordia, Motorola and Tait - usually rivals - have teamed to pitch for a big increase in spectrum reserved for emergency services (a key market for their respective digital radio networks).
For its part, Vodafone has revealed an "out-side in" strategy, pledging to use 4G spectrum to expand mobile networks in rural areas - many of which are currently starved for cellular service - before upgrading its urban networks.
The 4G spectrum auction is expected to raise $200 million to $300 million directly (assuming the government doesn't accommodate any of the various demands for cut-price or free access), with the government claiming $1.1 billion to $2.4 billion in indirect "digital dividend" benefits such as cheaper mobile network rollouts and more efficient broadcasting (assuming these benefits are passed on to customers).
Lots more bandwidth - but lots needed
4G promises dramatically faster speed, but the extra bandwidth could be rapidly soaked up as roughly the same amount of mobile customers each download a lot more data.
Earlier this year, Telecom CMO Jason Paris said the amount of data sloshing through Telecom’s mobile network during November doubled against the same month a year ago.
In February, it tripled year-on-year.
In August, Vodafone told NBR mobile data traffic on its network had grown from around 60 terabytes in June 2010 to 135TB - or 135,000 gigabytes - for the month of June 2011.