Melbourne’s Vodafone customers might notice an increase in their 4G reception. The telco has launched its low-frequency 4G+ (also known as 4GX and LTE Advanced) in 678 new sites. A further 71 will be switched on across Victoria over the next six weeks.
This is part of the 850MHz network refurbish Vodafone announced at the end of July. This frequency has until now been used as a 3G band, but with most of Voda's customers making the switch to 4G it seems wise to re-tune it. It's also necessary to compete with Telstra’s recently-launched 700MHz 4GX network and the similar 700MHz 4G offering from Optus early next year.
How will this make reception better?
Low-frequency ends of the spectrum, such as the 850MHz and 700MHz bands, carry information further and are better at penetrating solid obstacles. They make it deeper within buildings and are less affected when you’re in the city surrounded by skyscrapers. So far, Vodafone has been relying on the 1800MHz spectrum to deliver 4G, which is a higher-frequency network and can’t offer the same benefits.
By using its 850MHz network to supplement 4G, Vodafone will be increasing its coverage, as well as the number of customers it can carry at any one time before things get congested.
Will my phone work with it?
The good news is that most 4G-capable phones on the market are already compatible with 850MHz frequencies. On average, Vodafone customers won’t have to do anything – their reception should simply improve in locations where 4G+ is active.
This is in contrast to Telstra’s 4GX, which operates over the 700MHz spectrum. 700MHz is common to find in phones released this year, so long as you look at the more-expensive end of the market. Devices sold before 2014 are unlikely to support this radio frequency.
This is about coverage, not speed
While lowering congestion on its network should help a little with connection speeds, Vodafone’s 4G+ network is primarily about increasing reception strength and spread. Thanks to the longer range, some areas that before only received 3G should now get nominal 4G. You might also notice that the 4G icon at the top of your screen stays active when you’re sitting at your desk or in your house, where before it was ‘H+’ at best.
Currently, only 10MHz of the 850MHz spectrum is being switched over to Voda’s 4G+, out of a total of 20MHz. At least, that was the original plan, but Vodafone has not indicated any changes to its intended roll-out method. This means it will not be a Cat4 LTE technology, and fall far short of the Cat6 that Telstra’s 4GX network is capable of.
That’s not such a bad thing. Right now there is only one phone in Australia that can support Telstra's Cat6 – the Galaxy Note 4 – and even then only in very select locations. It’s a technology that’s sure to be important in the future, but right now Vodafone is wise to focus on reliability over mind-blowing download speeds that you may or may not actually need in foreseeable future. Coverage first, crazily unnecessary speeds later.