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Optus customers on hold as Home Zone blackspot base stations abandoned

31 Mar 2016

Optus is refusing to back down on plans to scrap its Home Zone indoor mobile base stations at the end of March, despite growing customer complaints regarding the telco's replacement mobile VoIP app.

Leon de Jonge runs a small marketing and design consultancy from home, living in an Optus mobile blackspot 20 kilometres west of central Brisbane. To access the mobile network he relies on an Optus-issued Home Zone "femtocell" indoor mobile base station, which mimics a mobile tower but diverts mobile calls and data via his home broadband connection.

The Australian communications watchdog has cracked down on unlicensed femtocells, which can interfere with nearby devices; but Optus, Telstra and Vodafone have all introduced licensed mobile base stations in the last few years to assist customers in mobile blackspots and help improve indoor coverage.

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Mid March Update

20 Mar 2016

Optus have really kicked things up a gear this fortnight, with 188 Site upgrades as well as 17 new sites. Queensland was the big winner with 102 sites upgrades alone in this state, but the other states still kept up with their usual pace. 4G700 and 4G2600 continue to be the main focus for Optus, Rural 4G1800 has not begun to be rolled out yet for either Optus or Vodafone.

Vodafone for this fortnight was next still finalising their upgrades with Victoria (not surprisingly) the main focus for rural 4G850 upgrades. 3G900 was also added to some sites to replace the 850 spectrum that was moved to 4G. Vodafone also added 11 new sites all in metro areas.

Telstra this time brings up the rear with 90 upgrades and 5 new sites. But the big news for telstra was the massive outages they have experienced over the past few months. Telstra charges a premium because of coverage and reliability, but with reliability now in question and Optus having arguably a larger 4G footprint as well as much much more available 4G bandwidth, I suspect that premium will be eroded as well as Optus picking up a nice windfall of new subscribers at Telstra's expense. The next set of subscriber numbers will be interesting to see.

NBN continues to plod along activating a further 33 active sites. They now have 2145 sites listed as either active or proposed, although this is still just shy of their expected 2300 sites, if you don't have an NBN site in your area then its getting less and less likely that you will be getting one.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has increased by 100 sites as Optus left Telstra in the dust. Optus is now ahead of Telstra in 4G 700Mhz by 1209 sites.

End of February Update

06 Mar 2016

This 2 week period has to go to Optus, Although they didn't quite upgrade as many towers as Telstra, they activated a staggering 27 new tower. All except 2 of these towers were in metro areas, so those towers were mostly adding capacity rather then additional coverage. In this period Optus also upgraded 94 towers still focusing on 4G700Mhz and 2600mhz nationally and 2300mhz in metro areas.

Telstra came in second with the most upgrades at 99 but only 5 new towers, All of the new towers were in rural areas so Telstra is continuing to expand their coverage area. Telstra's upgrade focus continues to be 4G700mhz as well as some 4G1800mhz, and a few 4G2600mhz here and there.

Vodafone has announced that their upgrade spree is coming to a conclusion, they still have a few states to go with rural 4G upgrades, and it would appear Victoria is next, as there appears to be some preparation going on there with Bendigo and Myrtleford getting 4G850 switched on. Vodafone upgraded 51 sites as well as adding 9 new sites, although Vodafone's total number didn't increase, it appears that older 3gis sites are being removed from the data-set as they were made inactive long ago.

NBN activated 30 new sites this month and continue to propose 3500Mhz for many sites although none are active yet.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has increased by 26 as Optus picked up the pace yet again this month. Optus is now ahead of Telstra in 4G 700Mhz by 1109 sites.

Mobile blackspot program: $60m up for grabs in second round

26 Feb 2016

Vodafone confirms it will participate, Optus ‘actively reviewing’ application process

The government today opened up the competitive selection process for the second round of the mobile blackspot program.

In round two of the program, which is focused on delivering mobile coverage to underserved areas, there is up to $60 million available to telcos. To get a slice of the funding telcos can propose to upgrade existing coverage or build new base stations.

In their funding applications telcos have to include the proposed amount of federal funding, the amount of their own co-contribution, and funding from other sources including state and local governments.

In the leadup to the selection process the public nominated more than 4400 mobile blackspots.

In the $100 million first round both Telstra and Vodafone walked away with funding.

The first round covered 429 Telstra base stations and 70 Vodafone base stations, with Telstra also committing to deploying 250 4G small cells.

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Federal Government urged to use Rural Fire Service towers for fixing 'unsafe' mobile black spots

24 Feb 2016

The Federal Government is being urged to consider using Rural Fire Service (RFS) communication towers to improve mobile telephone coverage for residents on the New South Wales southern tablelands.

The Upper Lachlan Shire said a lack of phone and internet coverage was hampering businesses and risking the safety of residents in the shire's north.

The council has suggested the existing Rural Fire Service towers could be used to provide critical improvements for the Bigga, Reids Flat and Rugby districts.

Upper Lachlan Shire Mayor John Shaw said the Government could substantially cut the cost of addressing mobile black spots by using existing infrastructure.

"I know a lot of people out there who complain about it dropping out or not having any service at all," Cr Shaw said.

"We've got a number of these [towers] around the shire, so our suggestion is to use those towers that are already in existence.

"Obviously they've got road access, they've got power, everything will be there so it's really a no-brainer we believe."

Federal Member for Hume Angus Taylor has backed the proposal and said those districts were his number one black spot priority in the wider region.


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ACMA changes tack on approach to broadband planning

24 Feb 2016

The Australian Communications and Media Authority – the country’s spectrum regulator - has signalled a shift towards what it says is a “greater reliance on a contingency planning model” in its strategy for addressing the growth in mobile broadband capacity.

Outlining its strategy in a report released on Wednesday, the ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said the change in approach is intended for the ACMA to be more “flexible and responsive” to the rapidly-changing spectrum environment.

“The strategy signals a shift towards greater reliance on a contingency planning model, where the regulator plans for a range of potential outcomes in terms of mobile broadband capacity growth, but still seeks to enable the right spectrum to be made available—at the right time—depending on the scenarios that are unfolding.

“The key to such a contingency planning approach is the ability of the regulator to work with industry and the international community on a range of potential candidate bands at the same time, often over the very extended periods that are required for the development of new, harmonised spectrum uses and subsequent changes in the highest value use of those bands domestically.”


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Telstra to deliver 1 Gbps mobile speeds this year

23 Feb 2016

Plans to trial 5G at 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Telstra is upgrading its mobile network to support the LTE category 16 standard and offer a boost in peak speeds on its 4GX network to 1 Gbps in the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane CBDs later this year.

The upgrade will coincide with the launch of the first hotspot capable of accessing the higher speeds, a 1 Gbps Netgear mobile broadband device.

The network upgrade will mean theoretical peak download speeds of 1000Mbps and peak upload speeds of 150Mbps.

The carrier began trials of the 1 Gbps capabilities last December in partnership with its network equipment vendor Ericsson.

“Our technology roadmaps will expand to introduce new features such as 4X4 MIMO that will further increase capacity and performance in densely populated areas to provide a superior mobile experience for our customers,” Telstra group managing director for Networks Mike Wright said.



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Vodafone set to complete 4G rollout

23 Feb 2016

Vodafone Hutchison Australia will next month complete its rollout of 4G across its network, the telco’s CEO said today.

Data usage grew explosively on the telco’s network in 2015, CEO Iñaki Berroeta said. On the back of increased customer numbers and investment in its network, data usage grew 84 per cent year-on-year.

The telco made a number of significant network announcements last year, including a dark fibre deal with TPG and the a refresh of its core network in collaboration with Ericsson.

The telco has moved customers to the Ericsson-designed network and in December began migrating customers to Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

“All in all we continued to base the trajectory of this company and we continue to base the growth of this company on a very strong network program,” Berroeta.

The CEO also noted that in 2015 Vodafone participated in the government’s mobile blackspot program. Funding from that program will help build 70 Vodafone base stations.

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Mid February Update

21 Feb 2016

This fortnight was a bit of a mixed bag with Telstra upgrading 99 sites and adding 5 new sites. Telstra continues their aggressive 700Mhz roll-out nation wide, 1800Mhz continues to be rolled out by Telstra also.

Optus came in second this period with 92 sites upgraded and 5 new sites also. 700Mhz was also Optus' focus however 2300 and 2600 was also deployed where appropriate. The interesting thing was the proposals for 23 sites in rural QLD along major highways A55, A2, A71 and A4. Looking at their existing coverage these proposals fill may gaps along those routes. This is the first indication I have seen that Optus is serious about fixing their "depth" issue in rural and remote Australia. With Optus missing out of black-spot funding this appear to be their response to that situation perhaps sending a message that they can do it without government funding.

Vodafone passes the 5000 active towers nation wide for the first time, quite a milestone but still some ways behind telstra. Although surprisingly they are only 800 towers behind Optus, while optus has a more even spread between rural and metro, Vodafone puts the bulk of their towers in metro locations. This fortnight Vodafone only upgraded 41 sites and activated 7 new sites. NSW featured heavily as they finalized their rural 4G 850Mhz roll out. WA got some activity in Metro areas getting 4G 850 upgrades. Its hard to say which state will be next with a rural 4G upgrade, perhaps its WA? although my guess would be Victoria.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has increased by 3 as Optus picked up the pace this month. Optus is now only ahead of Telstra in 4G 700Mhz by 1083 sites.

Mobile downloads hit 1.41Gbps in Optus LTE-A Pro trial

19 Feb 2016

Optus and Huawei have managed to achieve mobile download speeds 1.41 gigabits per second during a trial of LTE-Advanced Pro earlier this week.

Optus today announced the results of the trial, which employed so-called 4.5G technology.

The trial employed 100MHz of aggregated spectrum (5x20MHz).

“We continue to utilise our network and spectrum assets to test our network of the future and prepare for 5G,” said Dennis Wong, Optus Networks’ acting managing director.

“By 2020, 5G will be here and we are committed to identify ways to prepare our network to support this new technology and further improve customer experience.”

The trial took place at Optus’ Newcastle ‘Gigasite’ under live network conditions.


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