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Vodafone’s 4.9G network promises improved speeds, but it’s not quite 5G yet


It's not quite 5G, but Vodafone is making its first steps towards a faster network.

Vodafone has announced that it has switched on the first of what it's calling its "4.9G" network in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta, with four more sites to follow as it trials the technology.

"4.9G is supercharging our network, with customers in 4.9G areas to enjoy a higher quality network experience, smoother streaming, and more consistent speeds, even in times of high usage," said Kevin Millroy, Vodafone's chief technology officer.

"From 2016 to 2017, we saw an almost 40% increase in data usage on our network. Data usage has been rising steadily for years and with the introduction of our Unlimited mobile data plans, we don’t expect this to slow down," he said.

If you're thinking that you've never heard of "4.9G" before, that's because most of the hype around upcoming networks has been around 5G instead.

4.9G is a term used by Nokia Networks (not to be confused with HMD Global, responsible for the current crop of Nokia-branded Android phones such as the Nokia 1, Nokia 6 and Nokia 8 Sirocco) for a Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) network using Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) to deliver higher bandwidth across 1800Mhz frequencies.

That's a lot of jargon to unpack, but unless you're in the mobile network building space, the practical upshot is that Vodafone sites with 4.9G enabled should deliver considerably faster performance on compatible devices. Vodafone states that it has hit throughput speeds of 717 Mbps across eight devices in previous trials of the technology.

That puts it in similar territory to Telstra's existing rollout of 1Gbps capable networking infrastructure, which still leaves a lot of headroom for when Vodafone finally does launch 5G services.

Whereas Optus has announced intentions to offer fixed 5G services in early 2019, and Telstra says it's on track for fully mobile 5G in the first half of next year, Vodafone has been relatively quiet on this score.

On that front, Vodafone sees the gradual rollout of 4.9G as a stepping stone towards 5G:

“The trial is another significant step towards 5G and we’ll be rolling out 4.9G to more areas as the year progresses," said Millroy.

"We are focused on continuing to evolve and enhance our 4G network to deliver real benefits to our customers now, while Australians wait for the introduction of 5G to consumers in coming years. Vodafone is well on the way to be 5G-ready once compatible spectrum becomes available, with the rollout of our fibre transmission network nearing completion and the on-going project to virtualise our core network."

Vodafone has previously shown trials of its 5G network in partnership with Nokia Networks, but it's been much quieter in terms of launch dates in recent months than its competitors. It was notably very late in launching 4G capacity in Australia, and it appears that this may also be the case for 5G networks.

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