Vodafone's superfast 4G/LTE broadband service, now live in Auckland, will allow for download speeds ten times faster than current networks, the company says.
The company has beaten rivals to the punch, although Telecom and 2degrees both say they have 4G launches coming later (see below).
Chief executive Russell Stanners says "everything goes better" on the new network, which will enhance mobile video conferencing, gaming and video uploads.
The company says 4G is live in a third of Auckland (see coverage map here). This will be followed in Christchurch in May and Wellington in August/September.
Six 4G phones and tablets
The carrier has six devices which are capable of using 4G: the iPhone 5, iPad retina, iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Samsung Galaxy Note II and HTC Windows Phone X.
A 4G data stick is conspicuous by its absence. Vodafone tells NBR product is in development, but no release date has been revealed.
The upgrade means about 65,000 people across the country already have the ability to use the network, he says. Vodafone has been upgrading more than 300 cell sites to support the network but declined to comment on the capital cost.
No data boost with 4G plans
The service is not available on prepaid yet but is available on contract with a software upgrade. Entry level users can get a SIM only plan for $40 per month which includes 500MB of data. Users on a $120 per month plan (which includes 2GB of data) will receive 4G services as part of their package.
Existing data plans will not be changed yet as faster speeds did not necessitate bigger data caps, Vodafone says.
Mr Stanners says 23% of data comes from video usage such as YouTube and 4G will enhance people's experience with the video-sharing site.
Don't use 4G for huge data - Vodafone
NBR is disappointed Vodafone is not making major move to boost mobile data caps as it introduces 4G.
When NBR asked Mr Stanners if he thought customers would use more data over 4G, he pointed to overseas experience, saying, "Our bundles are more than enough for the average smartphone user. We have experience of 4G from around the world, including the USA where average usage is 1 to 2 gigabytes."
The CEO added, "If customers want to move huge amounts of data around, DSL and especially fibre are the solutions we would recommend, not 4G.
"Customers tend to use 4G when they’re out and about, and to use wi-fi when they’re at home and at work."
NBR suggests this usage pattern is shaped by pricing.
Vodafone is quite correct that 4G is superfast. It has the potential to replace your landline broadband - but only if you had a monthly mobile data cap that was closer to 50GB than 2GB.
For now, the mobile revolution is tightly constrained.
You could download an HD movie in minutes, but ...
Vodafone's marketing for 4G includes the line, "Say hello to things like streaming HD movies, or downloading them in minutes."
And ideed you could with download speeds topping 70Mbit/s (and upload speed topping 11Mbit/s in Vodafone tests).
But you would also wipe out a monthly 2 gigabyte data cap in under two hours - a 4G bill shock scenario that The Wall Street Journal has reported on in the US.
Vodafone says its Data Angel service will prevent any surprises here.
Voice remains on 2G/3G
4G/LTE technology can improve the quality of voice calls, and their stability, with its extra capacity offering the tantilising promise that you'll actually be able to phone someone from a big concert or All Blacks game at half time.
But for now, Vodafone will continue to carry voice calls over its 3G network. Mr Stanners says the 4G service will eventually include voice calls.
Telecom, 2degrees circling
A Telecom spokesperson yesterday told NBR ONLINE it would roll out its LTE product before the end of the year. It has already begun testing in Lower Hutt and North Shore in Auckland.
2degrees said it would upgrade to 4G, but would not reveal any timetable.
Although the government won't auction 4G-friendly 700MHz spectrum freed up by the digital TV switchover until later this year, 4G can also be run over 1800MHz and 2100MHz spectrum - and Vodafone enjoyed a top up in both those bands when it acquired TelstraClear, including most of its spectrum rights, in October last year.
Under the terms of the TelstraClear sale (perhaps to head off Commerce Commission qualms), some of TelstraClear's spectrum was made available for purchase by rivals and CEO Eric Hertz recently revealed 2degrees bought a 1800MHz block of spectrum from Telstra for $15 million