Vodafone 4G data caps may fall short

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 10:49 01/03/2013

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Vodafone customers can now enjoy much faster mobile broadband but data allowances may not be enough to handle the pace, experts are warning.

The telco has beaten rivals Telecom and 2degrees to the punch and launched the country's first commercial 4G mobile service, which it claims is up to ten times faster than its standard 3G service.

For consumers it will mean faster video streaming, downloads, uploads, browsing and gaming over mobile broadband. Vodafone said using 4G customers could download an album in less than three seconds, and a half-hour show for streaming in less than five seconds.

The service is currently available in parts of Auckland, covering 30 per cent of the population there, and will be rolled out to parts of Christchurch in May, and parts of Wellington over August and September.

By the end of the year 15 cities will have the 4G service, covering 40 per cent of the population. Vodafone plans to begin rolling out 4G to rural customers with lower-frequency radio spectrum, which the Government will auction this year.

4G mobile technology increases the data-carrying capacity of cellsites, giving telcos the ability to offer faster mobile broadband and more generous data allowances.

But Vodafone has not raised data allowances. Chief executive Russell Stanners said experience showed 4G customers overseas had not increased their data use dramatically, with average use one to two gigabytes a month.

Vodafone's largest monthly data allowance on its Smart Data plans is 3GB.

Tech commentator Colin Jackson said he already found it difficult to stay within his 3GB allowance.

"You'll be able to whistle through a large data cap very quickly, much faster than what people are expecting. There's a real potential for severe bill shock here." A 10GB or 20GB data allowance would be more appropriate for a 4G service, he suggested.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen said Vodafone was possibly "keeping their powder dry" ahead of 4G launches by Telecom and 2degrees, and could increase data caps when that happened.

Faster speeds ultimately meant people would use more data, he said.

"People will initially have a better experience doing the things they are today. But you'll get a lot of people making the move quite quickly to using a lot more data."

Stanners said customers tended to use wi-fi rather than mobile networks for data when they were at home or work, and recommended fixed-line technologies such as fibre were best suited for large data loads.

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The company said customers could use its Data Angel service, which alerts users when they are nearing and on their data limit, to keep data use in check.

Customers will pay $10 a month on top of their existing on-account plans for the 4G service, but those paying $120 a month or more for their plans will not pay more.

They will need 4G capable smartphones and tablets to use the service - of which there are currently six available in New Zealand including Apple's iPhone 5 and a 4G version of the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Twelve 4G capable devices will be available by mid-year.

Stanners said 65,000 customers around the country already had compatible devices and would need to run a software upgrade to use the service.

Telecom began trialing a 4G service with customers in Auckland and Wellington last month, and plans to launch a commercial service by the end of the year.

2degrees confirmed it will also switch on a 4G service, but did not say when.

- The Dominion Post

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