4G and LTE: everything you need to know

Curious about 4G in Australia? TechRadar explains all

Australia's largest telco was the first to jump on the LTE train, launching its first services in October 2011.

Initially only available to customers who purchased 4G dongles on 24 month contracts, the network immediately impressed pundits across the country for its speed.

At launch, the Telstra LTE network used the 1800MHz spectrum. Previously, this network was used to transmit 2G services, but with the rise of 3G-enabled devices, demand for 2G dropped enough that Telstra was able to repurpose the network for 4G.

That said, early last year Telstra announced it would expand its LTE network using the 900MHz frequency for greater regional coverage.

Telstra claims its LTE network delivers download speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, while upload speeds between 1Mbps and 10Mbps. In the real world, those lofty numbers will elude you, although we've regularly experienced speeds upwards of 20Mbps.

In Perth, where Telstra has access to a bit more spectrum, Telstra rolled out 20MHz services that promised even faster speeds for late 2013.

Speaking of coverage, Telstra makes a big deal out of the fact its LTE network already hit its target of about 85 per cent by Christmas 2013.

Telstra also had Australia's first Category 4 (Cat 4) LTE device available from mid-2013. Currently, Telstra has Cat 4 LTE networks in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane, with plans to expand it to the rest of Australia.

Also known as LTE-Advanced, Cat 4 LTE can theoretically push download speed up to 150Mbps. Telstra also moved on to trial the LTE-Advanced Cat 9 carrier aggregation coverage and began implementing it in major CBD centres in April 2015. Cat 9 mixes three 20MHz channels used on 1800MHz and 2600MHz bands to reach 450Mbps speeds.

And though only the Samsung Galaxy S6, HTC One M9 and the LG G-flex 2 are currently capable of keeping up with these speeds, more devices optimised for Cat 9 are expected in late 2015.

On the 1st of January 2015, Telstra turned on its 700MHz frequency and rebranded its 4G offering to 4GX. The 700MHz frequency was purchased in 2013 at the Digital Dividend auction where the AMCA sold off old analogue TV frequencies. As the lowest mobile carrier frequency it is particularly good at penetrating buildings and, as such, has been mostly allocated to city centres.

Telstra has big plans for 4G network developed, with the company trialing Skinet for in-flight LTE data use, as well as bringing LTE-Broadcast online in May, which the telco hopes will help reduce network congestion by streaming the same data content to multiple devices at the same or differing times, similar to a TV broadcast.

The telco has also performed significant testing on Voice over LTE (VoLTE) which uses 4G to deliver voice calls, thus reducing the total data consumed and speeding up calls. VoLTE is expected to be implemented later in the year.

Though the percentage of 4G compatible devices made up the majority of phones in Australia some time ago, 4G is currently neck and neck with 3G in terms of network subscriptions and it's expected to overtake its predecessor in June.

Getting connected

Telstra 4g dongle

Telstra offers a couple of dongle options for connecting PCs and wireless devices to its 4G network. There's a USB dongle, and a wireless dongle, which takes the LTE signal and converts it to a wireless hotspot for multiple devices to connect to.

Telstra also has a new Wi-Fi 4G dongle with 700MHz spectrum support.

On the smartphone side, Telstra offers a large collection of 4G-enabled handsets to purchase on a contract or outright.

In addition to the much-publicised iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Telstra also sells the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, the HTC One M9 and some of the less expensive new phones like the Microsoft Lumia 640 among other popular 4G phones of previous generations. We've compiled a list of our top five Telstra handsets.