Samsung’s new phones to be “Category 9”, but what does that mean?

There’s a new speed king in town, or it will be in the next few weeks, as Telstra announces that it will support the Samsung Note 5 and S6 Edge+ on Category 9 LTE.

So you’re probably wondering: just what is Category 9 LTE, and what will it mean for you?

High-speed 4G connectivity tends to be broken down into categories, with each of these relating to the type of technology it uses and the speeds that are possible from this tech.

In Australia, we have primarily seen three or four types of 4G LTE technology in the past few years, starting with Category 2, moving to Category 3 fairly quickly thereafter, progressing to Category 4, and more recently Category 6.

This might seem like a bunch of numbers, and to the regular person we could see why, but these numbers translate into download and upload speeds with real-world information.

4G comes in all shapes and sizes… it even comes in a car. 

For instance, if you bought a 4G phone when they first appeared in Australia, you very likely found yourself using a Category 2 device with speeds of up to 50Mbps, with Category 3 devices arriving next with speeds up to 100Mbps.

As a heads up, 100Mbps is the maximum speed more fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) NBN connections can get, making 4G semi-comparable to the NBN, except for the fact that 4G speeds are rarely held at these speeds, and are based on tower proximity, the amount of people using the service in the area you’re in, reception, and the device in question.

Upload speeds also were pretty solid here, boasting as much as 50Mbps, faster than the 1Mbps most people on ADSL2 connections are still seeing, making it ideal for uploading files in a jiffy.

These high speeds on Category 3 4G devices were good enough, but Category 4 improved this a good 50Mbps, pushing it up to 150Mbps as a maximum for downloads and keeping uploads the same.

Category 6 arrived last year, pushing the download speed one more time to a maximum of 300Mbps and keeping the upload the same (50Mbps), making us wonder if we were all spoiled for speed.

You don’t see these speeds often, either, but at least if you have the right device, it is technically possible to get them.

This week’s announcement, however, truly spoils us.

Credit: Telstra
Credit: Telstra

Category 9 is another improvement again, and while Telstra hinted it last year, it will be here shortly on Telstra’s 4GX network, rocking another improvement to download speeds and delivering as much as 450Mbps down and 50Mbps up to supported areas.

“This is all possible because back in May 2015, we activated the world’s first mobile network infrastructure bringing together 700MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz spectrum,” said Telstra’s Mike Wright on a blog post this week.

“This 4G super-highway on our 4GX service is capable of peak network speeds of up to 450Mbps,” he said. “Since then we have been optimising our network configuration and testing new devices ready for launch. This is a proud milestone for us to be able to confirm the first products compatible with this high-performance LTE-Advanced technology.”

Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 is one of the first phones to support Category 9 LTE. Yikes.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 is one of the first phones to support Category 9 LTE. Yikes.

Samsung’s recently announced Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5 will be the first phones to sport the Category 9 LTE technology, and it will be joined by a new high-speed 4G WiFi modem hotspot from Netgear in the months to come, making for three devices to support technology capable of delivering speeds that rival every other net-connecting technology found in the country.

As a comparison, the average Australian ADSL2+ customer gets between 5 and 12Mbps on downloads, and this is a good 40 times that on downloads, or up to anyway, with as much as 45 to 50 times the 1Mbps upload speed that customer also receives.

Based on what we’ve seen on previous 4G tests, we suspect the average customer will receive closer to 100 to 300Mbps downloads using Category 9 and closer 40Mbps on upload, but the speeds should still be very impressive all the same.

In fact, this writer is a little concerned how quickly he’ll blow out his downloads when he tests speeds for 4G tests.

We churn through data testing 4G phones as it is. This is the HTC One M9, which was a Category 6 phone. Category 9 is faster again.

Right now, that’s not an issue, but it will be when the phones arrive, because we’re told this high-speed connection technology should be good to go when those two phones launch, which might only be a matter of weeks away.

As for the other major telcos, we’ve contacted both Optus and Vodafone to find out if or when either will support the Category 9 technology, and so far neither have come back with an answer. Optus has told GadgetGuy it will be selling both new Galaxy phones, but hasn’t said if Category 9 will be supported, while Vodafone has been pretty silent on the topic.

We’ll let you know when either open their mouths to say more, but right now, Telstra may well be taking the crown for the fastest network in Australia if it’s the only one with support for Category 9 tech.