We've seen internal 4G trials and earlier this month Telecom announced its limited external 4G trial, but today Vodafone becomes the first telco in the country to actually offer the high speed mobile service to its customers.
Connections over 4G are significantly faster than 3G. Vodafone estimates it's around 10 times faster than what the carrier provides over its own 3G network, with demo speeds hitting a theoretical limit of 100 Mbps down / 50 Mbps up.
This is similar to the speeds you could expect on Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB), however real world testing shows a different picture. Once there were several demo devices connected to the 4G network, speeds fell sharply and ranged between 16 Mbps to 60 Mbps. Vodafone admits that consumers are unlikely to see speeds at the highest end of the 4G potential in day to day use, but it's still lightyears ahead of what's currently on offer (and faster than this reporter's fixed line broadband speeds).
Vodafone's 4G is currently limited to Auckland, where it has 30 percent coverage. The telco says it expects to launch in Christchurch, the country's second largest city, in May followed by Wellington in August or September. Coverage will gradually expand in the major metropolitan areas throughout the year.
Launching alongside the service is a new ad featuring Boy star James Rolleston, in an homage to Back to the Future.
Currently 65,000 Vodafone customers have 4G-capable phones, says the company. Only those on its monthly plans have access to 4G data plans, which start from $40 a month for a SIM-only plan with 500 MB of data.
(Some of the 4G capable devices available on Vodafone currently)
Launching 4G when Telecom is only in the very initial phases of its trials is a master play by Vodafone and likely to give it an upper hand with early adopters. I imagine Vodafone's marketing team was quietly pleased with itself when Telecom announced its 100-person strong 4G trial earlier this month.
A comment by Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners does raise some flags regarding datacaps. Stanners says Vodafone's current data caps are "sufficient" for 4G.
A look at Vodafone's data plan options range from $40 per month for 500 MB to $140 per month for 3 GB (+voice and txt). With the higher downlink and uplink speeds, comes a faster consumption of data and without datacaps that match the ten-fold increase in speed, users will hit the wall quickly.
(Pictured: A very happy Vodafone CEO)
Vodafone's flavour of 4G uses the 1800 MHz spectrum, which Stanners says is the company's preferred radio frequency for urban areas. He says the Vodafone will make a play for the 700 MHz spectrum range up for auction later this year.
Currently compatible Vodafone 4G devices:
· GALAXY Note II 4G-variant
· Samsung GALAXY S III 4G-variant
· Windows Phone 8X by HTC
· Apple iPad Mini
· Apple iPad with Retina Display