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850MHz or 900MHz? What is coming next to New Zealand

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 4-Dec-2008 11:08

Since Telecom New Zealand announced plans to release a WCDMA network operating in the 850MHz band in New Zealand I've seen lots of wrong ideas floating around.

I won't post here technical definitions of 3G services, neither go into the debate of merits of one technology or another.

However I feel it's a good time to clarify something related to the path Telecom New Zealand is following. Mainly because a lot of people still don't make a couple of important distinctions:

"GSM is not 3G and 3G is not GSM"
"Not all GSM handsets work on 3G but all (most) 3G handsets work on GSM"

A GSM network is quite different from a 3G network (regardless of it being based on WCDMA, HSDPA and CDMA EVDO).

For this post, let's talk about 3G based on WCDMA/HSDPA/HSPA, which is what Vodafone New Zealand currently offers and what Telecom New Zealand is going to deploy.

In short a GSM-only handset won't work on a 3G network. Not all GSM handsets available in store are 3G handsets.

First some of the network-side components are different. Second GSM operates in some bands (900MHz, 1800MHz, and 1900MHz) while WCDMA operates in different bands (2100MHz, 900MHz, 850MHz).

Vodafone is deploying a 900MHz WCDMA network to cover the spots where its current 2100MHz WCDMA network is not available (or replacing it and some). Again, a GSM 900MHz handset won't connect to WCDMA 900MHz network because these are different technologies.

Telecom is deploying a WCDMA 850MHz network - it is actually live in some areas of Auckland, already accepting incoming roaming from Australia and Pacific Islands.

So what works now?

First you will need a 3G 850MHz handset to connect to Telecom New Zealand's new network. Where would you get those? Telecom has said they will supply handsets free to customers on a valid contract when the new network comes live.

Of course you could also bring your own handset. Other operators using WCDMA 850MHz include Telstra in Australia and American operators such as AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile.

For roaming you will need a handset that supports 850MHz (AU/USA/Canada) and 2100MHz (Europe).

What if you are porting from Vodafone New Zealand to Telecom New Zealand? The same applies. GSM-only handsets won't work. 3G handsets may work if they support 850MHz - a good example is your Apple iPhone.

The Apple iPhone is an interesting thing - it should work well on Telecom New Zealand's new network because it is originally designed for WCDMA 850MHz in the USA. It also works on Vodafone New Zealand's existing WCDMA 2100MHz network. But the current Apple iPhone 3G won't work on Vodafone's new WCDMA 900MHz network.

Does it make sense now?

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Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

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