Rants, Raves, Reviews

Telstra UMTS 850 - what a challenge!

By Gary R, in , posted: 26-May-2006 17:03

Being a curious individual interested in all things cellular I decided to take some time and find out more about the challenges that lay ahead for Telstra. As you may or may not be aware Telstra are closing down their CDMA network and instead have opted for a UMTS 850 network.
The rational behind the decision is this:

1. They already have a UMTS network through their 50% ownership of '3'
2. UMTS is part of the GSM (backward compatible) family and Telstra have an extensive GSM 900 network
3. Telstra already own the 850MHz spectrum which is a left over from the AMPS days and is currently used for CDMA
4. 850MHz offers superior coverage over 2100MHz so it is well suited to the 'bush' or rural Australia. It is something like a 60% reduction in the number of cell sites required for a UMTS 850 network when compared to UMTS 2100 for the same coverage footprint.

Moving to UMTS 850 means that their cellular technology is all brought under the same technology roof which should ultimately save some money. A great idea but there are some major challenges.
So far the only major carrier to adopt UMTS 850 is Cingular in the USA. It is expected that Rogers (Canada) will go this way but so far that is it for confirmed or rumoured deployments.

According to the 3GPP there are 9 bands approved for UMTS networks:
1. UMTS 2100
2. UMTS 1900
3. UMTS 1800
4. UMTS 1700/2100
5. UMTS 850
6. UMTS 800
7. UMTS 2600
8. UMTS 900
9. UMTS 1700

Geographically we have:
Japan - UMTS 2100/1700 (current), UMTS 850 (they could)
Europe/China - UMTS 2100 (current), UMTS 1800/900 (might do)
North America - UMTS 1900/850 (current), UMTS 1700/2100 (possible)
UMTS 2600 - no one seems that keen

Ok - this is where 3G roaming gets complicated:
Telstra will end up being UMTS 850 and 2100 along with GSM 900. On the other hand Cingular is UMTS 850 and 1900 plus GSM 900 (I guess).

For a Telstra customer to roam to Cingular on 3G they would need a UMTS 850/1900/2100 handset otherwise it will be GSM 900 only.

So far there are no UMTS 850/1900/2100 handsets.

In Australia it gets worse:
A rural customer will have a UMTS 850/2100 GSM 900 phone. A city slicker currently has either:

A. Existing Telstra customer - quad band GSM
B. Existing '3' (Telstra/Hutch) customer - UMTS 2100/GSM 900

When an existing '3' customer is out of the metro areas they are on GSM 900. There is no 3G choice. When they travel to the 'country' they are lucky to get anything.

An existing Telstra GSM customer has a better chance with seamless GSM but still the 'country' is an issue.

This quote made by a Jenny Roche - Telstra head of small business, to ZDNET in March 2005 sort of sums it up:

Telstra's CDMA network has "twice the geographic coverage of any GSM network in
Australia and covers more than 98% of the population, or more than 1.6 million square kilometers across both rural and metropolitan areas"

According to the '3' web site. The '3' mobile broadband service (UMTS) is currently available in most (not all) areas of Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra. '3' continue to state that 'we now reach 96% of Australians with Talk, SMS, MMS and Email'. OK that is very 1990's where is the nationwide 3G? From that statement you can tell that GSM is the dominant part of the '96%'.

This says to me that the GSM 900 and UMTS 2100 coverage is not actually that good and the UMTS 850 footprint will have to be huge to match CDMA. UMTS 850 has the potential to be the most dominant (coverage wise) Telstra network in Australia. Better than both GSM 900 and UMTS 2100 put together.
So, why does Telstra bother to continue with UMTS 2100 and GSM 900? Why not rip the whole lot out and go UMTS 850 all the way? Surely this would save money in the long run, give the best coverage foot print and allow customers to use 3G services nationwide.

UMTS 850 is certainly an interesting concept and I am sure there are a few carriers questioning why they paid billions of dollars for 3G (UMTS 2100) spectrum when they could have reused the 800/850 or 900 spectrum that they already owned. It looks like they got swindled.

Unless the GSM world can come up with 7 band 3G phones the chances of seamless global 3G roaming look very slim and very grim.


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Comment by the muffin man, on 27-May-2006 01:16

so how come if I look on the Cingular site thay already have phones with 3G 850 and 4 bands of GSM. Doens't seem that impossible to me. Ask the guys who make the chip sets like Qualcomm who funny enough make all the CDMA stuff, they are betting big time on 3G and already plan chips doing all those frequenies this year.

Comment by Insider, on 27-May-2006 02:33

"So, why does Telstra bother to continue with UMTS 2100 and GSM 900? Why not rip the whole lot out and go UMTS 850 all the way? Surely this would save money in the long run, give the best coverage foot print and allow customers to use 3G services nationwide." You'll find that Telstra does want to move away from GSM also - this is well reported on. As for 2100, there is little point in keeping it, think you'll find they'll ditch that also, they didn't actually build it in the first place. This network will seriously kick any others in existance once built.

Author's note by Jama, on 27-May-2006 08:41

When it comes to handsets it is all about the volume. UMTS 850 handsets to support UMTS 2100 are not a volume item because it is only Telstra who currently require them.

Author's note by Jama, on 27-May-2006 08:43

Yes nationwide UMTS 850 will kick ass. Just like CDMA 1xRTT and EVDO do currently

Comment by sbiddle, on 27-May-2006 09:24

I think it's a case of "build it and they come". The handset issue is really only a temporary thing, in much the same way there are 2100UMTS + quad band GSM handsets now there isn't any reason why there won't be tri band UMTS (850+900+2100) + quadband GSM (850+900+1800+1900) handsets. I was reading the other day about chipsets already under development to offer this and it's nowhere near as complicated as first thought. Obviously fitting all this gear into a case isn't going to result in a small form factor phone in the short term but there isn't really any reason why it won't be the norm in the 2-3 years it will reastically take for their network to actually work!

Comment by juha, on 27-May-2006 10:37

What kind of bitrates will UMTS 850MHz offer though?

Author's note by Jama, on 28-May-2006 11:59

Juha - speed will depend on whether or not they offer HSDPA. At present UMTS is max 384kps so slower than their current EVDO Rel0 network. HSDPA starts at 1.8Mbps then goes to 7.2 and 14.4 but still with 384kbps upload until HSUPA.

Comment by juha, on 28-May-2006 15:09

Doesn't the lower frequency lead to a lower symbol rate as well though? Or would you go very wideband CDMA and expand the channel bands to make up for the lower symbol rate? Also, is there actually any HSPA supplier for gear in the 850MHz band?

Comment by juha, on 28-May-2006 15:12

Hmm... replying to my self here but: http://www.ednasia.com/article.asp?articleid=6580 So Cingular already has 850MHz HSDPA going.

Author's note by Jama, on 29-May-2006 07:54

Novatel Wireless have a card that is 850/1900/2100 HSDPA. Max speed 3.6Mbps http://www.novatelwireless.com/products/merlin/merlin-u870.html

Comment by Insider, on 29-May-2006 11:48

HSPDA will be rolled out as part of Telstra UMTS 850. Ericsson are building the network.

Comment by Michael Andersen, on 7-Jun-2006 12:22

This should answer a few more question... and if it does not do that... it will make you ask a few more. Telstra's New 3G Mobile Network. TELSTRA'S 8:4 million mobile phone users will need to buy a new handset when the company switches to its proposed new generation technology, beginning next year, 2007. As part of a major restructure announced last week by Telstra boss Sol Trujillo, Telstra plans to close its present three networks, GSM, or digital, COMA and the newly launched 3G, and replace them nationally with one system. Telstra spokesman Rod Bruem said the existing phones, some costing as much as $1000, would not work on the new network and all Telstra custom¬ers would need to upgrade. "We will probably offer deals to our customers to change over and could include the new handsets as part of contract renewals," he said. "But prices of the new phones should be comparable with the 3G phones in our shops now. We obviously want to hold on to our customers and look after them by minimising any disruptions through the technology change." Telstra, with 46 per cent of the mobile market, has seven million customers using the standard digital GSM network, while 1.4 million, most in the country, are linked to Digital CDMA Network, which gives better coverage in country areas. The present 3G network that Telstra introduced only months ago, provides high-speed data and video calls to mobiles. The new system will replace all three networks, but will operate on the same frequency as the CDMA system, which means its range should be as good. It will also make use of 80 per cent of existing equipment, including phone towers. Mr Bruem said it was important to note that the biggest mobile operator in the US, a company called Cingular, had 51 million customers, and was moving to the same technology planned by Telstra. Deals had been done with other big players so that this technology could become the dominant one in the world, and the more customers, the bigger the savings, and the more competition from phone manufacturers. "Telstra has signed a new agreement with a company called BrightStar, which is one of the world's biggest mobile phone sourcing companies, and that will allow us to have the new phones made to suit Australian specifications and the new market," he said. The new Telstra network will be on a different frequency to that used by Optus and other companies, meaning there will be two separate mobile phone systems. which could result in a need for phones with dual bands. Mr Bruem said that with all Telstra customers having access to the one network, the company could better focus on filling in black spots. "But the change will be a gradual process," he said. "If people buy a new phone today, they should not be concerned about suddenly having to throw it away. The present networks will continue until 2008 and, because most customers upgrade their phones every 18 months, there should not be any worries. But there will be a date when the present phones will cease to work, in the same way the old analogue system was closed down; although unlike analogue, Telstra is not locked in by a mandated government shutdown. This time, we will do it in a way that ensures people are not inconvenienced." Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, a strong advocate of the present CDMA network, said he was deeply concerned about Telstra's proposals, particularly as the replacement low-frequency GSM network was not yet operational in the southern hemisphere. "Not so fast, Sol, in junking the CDMA mobile freeway. which is able to be upgraded easily to 3G or 4G," he said. "I accept GSM can also be upgraded but possibly at a bigger cost. We need to flush out the details and we need to see a lot more about the proposed footprint coverage of the new network."

Comment by Chris, on 20-Jun-2006 02:20

Hello.. I work for Cingular... and i Thought I'll clear thing up on Cingular's Behalf.. Cingular runs an AMPS and TDMA Service on 850mhz till 02/2008 Cingular has GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/1900mhz. Not 900mhz.. The FCC has not approved of that frequency in the US.. and with that said.. Cingular runs a UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900 MHZ UMTS is also commonly nicknamed as "W-CDMA" the W stands for Wideband. Oviously UMTS/HSDPA is the Best out there to date. Offering both Voice and Broadband Data at the same time.. Thus allowing 2-way Video calls.. Notise the Phones have a camera in the front.. Verizon's CDMA with its EVDO ( Evolution Data ONLY) service is only a old school attachment.. EVDO offers High speed .. But you cannot use it at the same time.. Similer to GSM/GPRS. Except GSM is Much Better than CDMA. Here is a list from New to Old Technology: UMTS/HSDPA EVDO GSM/GPRS/EDGE CDMA TDMA AMPS Cingular is also the #1 Wireless Service Provider in the United States and there are your facts for the day. =)

Comment by Frank Holland, on 14-Jul-2006 13:30

Having just read most of the comments here I realise how retired from geekdom I am. Wish it wasn't so but my last active involvement in communications was in the 80s so please read my questions with that in mind. I'm having trouble separating service names from protocols from frequency bands here. I assumed that once the frequency and physical protocols were established the rest was agreement on services. I also thought that CDMA and GSM were physical protocols and EDGE,CDMA1x,EVO were services that ran over one or more of these protocols. I love some constructive feedback so I can rebuild my paradigm. Thanks guys

Author's note by Jama, on 14-Jul-2006 14:01

CDMA 2000 is the 'family' name so yes that would be the protocol. 1xRTT and EVDO are the services which run over the top. GSM on the otherhand has no bearing or relationship to UMTS (WCDMA) or HSDPA. They are essentially different families.

Comment by Alex, on 28-Jul-2006 17:06

Quadband UMTS/HSDPA/HSuPA available.


Comment by Mark Rawolle, on 7-Aug-2006 16:49

Problems which looked too hard back in May are now fixed by August

There is now the LG CU500, which is triband 3G W-CDMA UTMS(850/1900/2100) and quad band GSM phone. Also a HTC MTeoR with similar specs.

With 3 major carriers to use 850MHz UTMS W-CDMA/HSDPA Cingular Wireless, Telstra and Rogers Wireless, and 2100Mhz in Europe, its not going to be long before we see lots of Triband W-CDMA phones around. The triband modems are already appearing (either released or announced - Novatel and Sierra Wireless)

Comment by Harlekkin, on 19-Aug-2006 18:10

Telstra's 3G - 850Mhz vs. 2100Mhz

The two frequencies really have their own roles. Just like GSM 900/1800 co-exist, so should UMTS 850/2100. UMTS 850 has a further reach than the higher 1800/1900Mhz frequencies, but I have been told that higher frequencies can put up with more "network traffic" = more users at the same time.
So idealy you would want to have UMTS 2100 in metro areas because that's where the population is the most dense.
You want UMTS 850 in rural communities because of the low population and far distances.

In the future we'll replace all GSM frequencies and upgrade them to UMTS/HSDPA anyway, so we'll continue using all three/four frequencies until GSM has completely been phased out and been replaced by UMTS.


Comment by George, on 14-Oct-2006 02:33

Some mistakes here:

Cingular uses GSM 850/1900 not 900 as mentioned.

For users all over Australia a WCDMA850 handset would be fine as the new network will overlap all existin coverage!

In Japan the WCDMA 1700 band is not used (only mentioned once by DoCoMo for one region). The 850 band is used by the DoCoMo FOMA-plus area which is an extended coverage area for remote areas not covered by the mainstream 2100 network.

So it's: 2100 for Japan (DoCoMo and Softbank, 850 used on very remote places by DoCoMo and 1700 just mentioned once on one handset and for one area)

2100 in Korea (nationwide coverage by 1H 2007)

Australia has 850 (nationwide Telstra network) and 2100 for cities (all other carriers)

Europe is 2100 only (900/1800 might be considered later when older GSM networks are phased out)

N.America goes mainly for 850 but also 1900 for 3G coverage and the newly licensed 2100/1700 paired spectrum seems to be used only by T-mobile US although Cingular also bought spectrum there.

So for roaming 850/2100 handsets for WCDMA will be available in 2007 while 850/1900/2100 (for entire US, European and Asian coverage) are possible on a later date. The 1700 band is japanese only and the 2100/1700 paired band, 900 and 1800 bands are set into the future...

Comment by Mike, on 12-Feb-2007 23:30

Then there's UMTS900, already tested in France.....

Comment by Shayne, on 17-Mar-2007 15:34

And now UMTS900 in Isle of Man, for Manx Telecom, O2's proving ground.

Comment by Ali, on 12-Apr-2007 15:50

please could you tell me which 3GPP specs descriping UMTS-850, and any good book or papers studying UMTS-850 performance, advantage/disadvantage, propagation performance and link budget etc.?

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