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Telstra and Optus kick off 700MHz 4G services in select areas

Both telcos have begun offering commercial access to 700MHz 4G networks in a small number of capital cities and regional areas around Australia.

The HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 are the only phones currently able to use the 700MHz spectrum. Josh Miller/CNET

Telstra and Optus have both kicked off commercial access to their 700MHz 4G services in selected areas around Australia.

For Optus, the network is now available in Perth and Darwin -- the first time Darwin has had access to any 4G networks from the telco.

Telstra, meanwhile, has begun what it terms as "commercial trials" for its 700MHz network in Perth, Fremantle, Esperance, Mildura, Mt Isa and Griffith.

The limited offerings come ahead of a projected date of January 1, 2015 to switch on a nationwide network utilising the spectrum. Both were made possible by the issuing of early access licences by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The lower frequency of the 700MHz spectrum -- compared to the more common 1800MHz and 2600MHz bands -- gives the network better penetration, offering stronger coverage in buildings, carparks, elevators and the like.

At the moment, the only smartphones that can access the new networks are the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8 -- both of which have Category 6 LTE modems. Telstra's Wi-Fi 4G Advanced Pro X personal hotspot is the other device that works across 700MHz.

The new spectrum forms part of the ongoing upgrade to LTE-Advanced for Telstra and Optus. Telstra has said that its eventual LTE-A network will use a "block" each of the each of the 1800MHz, 700MHz and 2600MHz spectra.

The 700MHz spectrum is also used by some wireless audio devices and these will be illegal from January 1, 2015 thanks to a ruling from ACMA. According to Telstra's network MD Mike Wright, the commercial trial will also allow it to see the impact of these devices on 4G coverage.

"The commercial trial will also allow us to test how our use of the 700 MHz band interacts with wireless audio devices that are still able to be used by the community in this spectrum until the end of 2014."