Faster, better mobile service is on the way to Waikato - as long as you are willing to buy a new mobile. Telecom announced yesterday that the superior service its new spectrum offers will be made available to the Waikato region first, before being rolled out to the rest of provincial New Zealand.
Telecom recently invested $158 million buying up part of the old analogue TV radio spectrum from the Government, made available by the switch-over to digital TV. The 700 MHz signal covers an area four to six times greater than the 1800 MHz spectrum, which Telecom currently uses, and "propagates" through the walls of buildings four to six times better too.
While 4th generation broadband, or 4G, is already available in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch on the old spectrum, Waikato will be the first to use it on 700MHz.
Telecom chief operating officer David Havercroft said the technology had been under trial in the Waikato since May.
"The trial has gone extremely well, with the services performing above expectation and with very high speeds shown," he said.
The service will officially be available to mobile customers in August, run off 11 cell sites across the region. Telecom head of communications Richard Llewellyn said most of the sites were yet to be decided, but Hamilton and Morrinsville were confirmed.
However, only 4G mobile devices fitted with the right equipment will work on the new spectrum. Havercroft said there would be a "limited range of devices available in August" when the service launched in Waikato, and said by the end of the year Telecom would have "a mobile device portfolio of approximately 10 devices" that would work on the spectrum.
"This will expand into the New Year and as the 700 MHz technology rolls out across the globe," said Havercroft.
He said the technology was also likely to work better in Australia.
"We have paid a premium to acquire our spectrum at the lower end of the band, which means Telecom devices will be more compatible when roaming in Australia.
"This will also be a big advantage accessing a wider range of devices during the first few years of 700MHz 4G," he said.
Only the lower end of the spectrum was purchased in Australia.
Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis welcomed the announcement, saying more 4G coverage would be useful to farmers.
The rural community has typically been bottom of the list for telecommunications providers, with low population density making the cost of infrastructure prohibitive.
"A lot of farmers these days have iPads and iPhones," said Lewis.
He added that LIC, DairyNZ, Fonterra and others had mobile applications, or apps, that were used more and more by farmers.
Wider 4G coverage would mean devices could be used effectively on the farm as well as at home, he said.
New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to "clear and reallocate" part of the 700 MHz spectrum for mobiles, according to Telecom. The company will continue its rollout to the rest of New Zealand between now and Christmas. Of the 45 MHz of available bandwidth, Telecom bought 20 MHz, Vodafone 15 MHz and 2Degrees 10 MHz. The company said despite the 700MHz spectrum giving it a "significant advantage," it would not switch off the current 1800MHz for 4G.