Spark (formerly Telecom New Zealand) has expanded its LTE service to more than 70 towns and cities, covering about two-thirds of the population.

David Havercroft, its COO, said in a statement that since it launched 4G a year ago, it’s been playing catch-up with its main competitor (Vodafone), who had a head start with 4G.

“We’ve now closed that gap. Based on our projected build over the next few months, we’re confident that if we’re not already in a leadership position in terms of coverage, we will be soon.”

The company has launched 4G services using 1.8GHz spectrum and newly-acquired 700MHz spectrum, and has introduced carrier aggregation in Auckland. The 700MHz rollout, which started in August, will be a key focus next year and is crucial for providing mobile data coverage in rural areas, Havercroft said.

“The lower the radio spectrum frequency, the further its signal travels – which means in rural areas with low populations the 700MHz spectrum band is ideal because it can deliver great coverage from fewer cell sites. It will allow us to bring high-speed mobile broadband coverage to communities where previously it would have been uneconomic,” he said.

A 700MHz cell site can cover an area four to six times greater, and provides more effective coverage within buildings, than an equivalent 1.8GHz cell site delivering 4G services.