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Regional Communications Minister denies weakness or inefficiencies in mobile phone black spot program

07 Sep 2016

The Regional Communications Minister has brushed off criticism of the rollout of the mobile phone black spot program, despite an audit office report questioning its overall "impact and effectiveness".

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report found the Federal Government lacked appropriate method in its rollout of the $385 million first round of the black spot program.

The ANAO also found the program funded "areas that already had existing coverage" and had no framework to measure its performance.

The mobile phone black spot program is being coordinated by the Department of Communications in response to a 2013 election commitment to improve mobile phone coverage in remote and regional areas.

The audit office has handed its recommendations to the Department of Communications.

Federal Minister for Regional Communications Fiona Nash said the department had already addressed most of the issues outlined in the ANAO report.

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End Of August Update

03 Sep 2016

This fortnight Vodafone continues where they left off last time with their rollout of 4G2100, upgrading a staggering 323 towers. ACT, QLD, SA and WA continue to be the focus for this rollout with 80 or more towers upgraded in each those states and 34 for the ACT, this rollout is focused in Metro areas only. With all that going on Vodafone also managed to activate an impressive 19 new towers with 7 of those in QLD alone.

Optus also picked up the pace with 150 site upgrades continuing their 4G700 rollout along with a mix of other 4G bands. Rural areas featured heavily as well as QLD being a major focus with 50 upgrades alone. What’s also impressive is in that time Optus also activated a staggering 52 new towers on the main land with 17 in NSW and 15 in QLD alone!!! These new sites were mainly clustered around major metro areas. Optus also past the 6000 tower mark now with Vodafone just over 5000 towers and Telstra just over 7500 towers.

Telstra continues to plod along with its 4G700 rollout, with 145 site upgrades with VIC getting 45 upgrades alone, Telstra also activated 8 new sites in that time. There is nothing remarkable to report other than Telstra is progressing steadily but surely.

This fortnight NBN continues to fall off a cliff with 1 new sites and 1 upgraded site. NBN is only 2/3 complete in its wireless rollout so this is quite a remarkable drop in its rollout speed.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has increased by 20 sites as Optus picks up its pace. Optus is still ahead of Telstra in 4G700 by 1116 sites. Optus also now has over 4000 towers with 4G700 so yet another milestone for Optus this fortnight.

Audit finds flaws in mobile blackspot program

03 Sep 2016

A report from the Australian National Audit Office has criticised some elements of the government’s mobile blackspot program (MBSP). A key flaw of the program was that its first round “did not sufficiently target funding toward the expansion of coverage where coverage had not previously existed,” the audit found.

The government in June last year announced that Telstra and Vodafone would receive funding under the $100 million first round of the blackspot program.

The first round covered 429 Telstra base stations and 70 Vodafone base stations and according to the government would deliver mobile coverage to 68,600 square kilometres. Telstra received funding of $94.8 million, while Vodafone was awarded $15.2 million (including GST).

In addition to the federal funding, the round included $275 million in co-contributions (from state governments and third parties in addition to the telcos).

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Optus goes bigger with data allowances on new broadband plans

03 Sep 2016

Optus has launched new home wireless broadband plans for consumers and small business customers with generous data inclusions.

The telco says the new plans are aimed at new and existing customers who want a simple Internet solution, “without the hassle of a fixed broadband connection”.

With all telcos and market players responding to consumer demand for more and more data, Optus’ plans, available from 5 September, include 200GB of data for $80 a month on a Home Wireless Broadband 24-month contract or month-to-month plan, or $90 a month on a 12-month contract.

Ben White, managing director of marketing and product at Optus, says the data inclusion are the biggest ever offered by Optus on its 4G network, and “represents fantastic value for customers”.

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Optus extends NT mobile coverage with ‘innovative’ small cell technology

25 Aug 2016

Optus is boosting mobile coverage for locals and travellers across 12 remote locations in the Northern Territory with the introduction of cells that provide mobile coverage through its satellites.

Optus says the small units – known as “small cells” - provide the potential for an inexpensive and flexible alternative to traditional mobile towers.

The small cells will be located between selected locations from Katherine to Uluru along the Stuart Highway, key roadhouses and popular check-in locations including Daly Waters, Renner Springs, Three Ways, Barrow Creek and Erldunda.

In addition, locations such as Curtin Springs on Lasseter’s Highway, which are not currently serviced by any mobile coverage, have been chosen.

Optus Networks acting managing director, Dennis Wong, says the introduction of small cell mobile technology on this scale will enhance customer experience for its customers in the Northern Territory.

“This initiative is about delivering a choice in mobile services for workers and residents in and around these key locations, and enabling a ‘check-in’ capability for passing traffic such as travelling workers, truckies and tourists,” Wong says.

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Vodafone to undertake 5G trials

25 Aug 2016

Vodafone will undertake lab trials of 5G technologies on its network towards the end of the year, just months after completing the bulk of its 4G rollout.

The mobile telco is following closely on the heels of rival Telstra to begin its testing of 5G technologies ahead of planned 5G deployments in 2020.

It today said lab tests would commence in the fourth quarter of this year. Production trials are scheduled closer to the 2020 deployment, around 2018/19.

The telco’s acting chief technology officer Kevin Millroy declined to provide specifics of the “first glimpse” Vodafone would take at 5G.

He said Vodafone would work with a number of its equipment suppliers - which include the likes of Huawei and Ericsson - on the trials but would not comment further.

“This will be the first opportunity to see and experience what a customer will get with a 5G offering,” Millroy said.

“The actual network will not be there until 2020. We’ve still got a 4G network that we have to ensure continues to deliver the great servivce that is has been delivering”.

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Mid August Update

23 Aug 2016

The past fortnight sees Vodafone take the lead since they finished their major 4G rollout. This suggests that Vodafone is still spending quite a lot of money on their network which is great to see. Vodafone upgraded 134 sites most of which were in ACT, QLD, SA and WA which all received a re-farm of 2100Mhz spectrum from 3G to 4G. The remainder of states received 4G850 and 4G1800 upgrades. Almost all of this work was done in Metro areas. 3G21000 is still running on those sites however as time goes by more and more of that spectrum will be assigned to 4G. Vodafone also managed to activate 12 new sites with 4 each in WA and QLD.

Telstra came in second this time around with 126 site upgrades and 7 new sites. 4G700 continues to be almost the only focus for Telstra. The new sites were located in remote, rural and metro areas while the upgrades were quite well spread across their entire network also.

Optus although coming in last is by no means slacking off, with 119 site upgrades and 14 new sites. Optus also continues to propose new sites also with a further 23 proposals, bringing their new proposals to around 260 in the past two and a half months. Many of the new sites appear to be joint ventures with Vodafone but there were also a few Optus only sites. 4G700 continues to be the major focus for Optus however many sites also received other bands as well with rural areas getting good representation for upgrades especially along the east coast.

This fortnight NBN enabled 5 new sites and also upgraded a further 6 sites, which continues a significant drop in rollout speed.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has reduced by only a further 4 sites. Optus is still ahead of Telstra in 4G700 by 1096 sites.

Has TPG started building its own 4G network?

16 Aug 2016

Digital dividend spectrum could be put into action.

TPG Telecom appears poised to step up work on its own 4G network, revealing plans over the weekend to design and implement a “LTE network rollout”.

The move is foreshadowed in an otherwise innocuous recruitment advertisement for a “senior network engineer”, posted Saturday August 13.

The top four key duties and responsibilities are to “design and implement LTE”, “LTE network rollout and upgrade”, to “support and troubleshoot LTE”, and to “define [an] operating procedure for LTE networks”.

A TPG spokesperson downplayed the advertisement when contacted by iTnews.

“We’re in an R&D phase,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve always had people in the background from an R&D perspective. I wouldn’t look too much into a job posting.”

TPG was a surprise bidder in the digital dividend spectrum auctions of 2013, snapping up 2600 MHz assets. It also has some 1800 MHz spectrum, which could similarly be used for 4G services.

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End Of July Update

09 Aug 2016

Very little has changed the past two week with things continuing along as they have been for some time now.

Vodafone had a busy couple of weeks with 99 tower upgrades as well as 5 new sites. Upgrades focused mainly in metro areas with 4G1800 being added to many of the towers, but 4G850 remains the main focus.

Optus continues to plod along at a fairly rapid pace with 109 tower upgrades as well as 11 new towers. Optus also continues to propose new sites 58 this past fortnight which brings their recent total to around 240 in the past 2 months alone. This is quite significant as it  represents a 4% increase in total towers should they be installed. Many of the new sites are in rural areas so I believe once Optus is done with their current upgrades their focus will shift to expanding coverage particularly in rural areas. As for the current upgrades QLD was the main focus with 40 towers upgraded alone, mostly along the cost.

Telstra continues with their rapid pace also with 141 upgrades and 14 new sites taking the lead on both accounts. Metro areas featured heavily for upgrades and 4G700 now almost exclusively the main focus but with a smattering of 4G1800 and 4G2600 as well.

This fortnight NBN enabled 8 new sites and also upgraded a further 9 sites, which continues last reports significant drop in rollout speed.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has reduced by a further 28 sites as Optus continues to try to keep their lead. Optus is still ahead of Telstra in 4G700 by 1100 sites.

Telstra extends 4G coverage in regional areas on back of spectrum investment

22 Jul 2016

Telstra has used the additional spectrum it purchased at auction earlier this year to deliver a speed boost for its mobile customers in North Queensland and South Australia with about 200 of its base station sites receiving up to 50% more 4G capacity.

The telco paid $191 million to secure 57 blocks of spectrum on the 1800 MHz band at auction last February. Altogether, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and TPG spent a total of $543.5 million buying spectrum in the 1800 MHz band at the auction.

Telstra’s group manager director of networks Mike Wright says Telstra paid more than any other bidder for the extra spectrum, which adds to the purchase of 700MHz and 2600MHz spectrum — “double that of any other bidder” in the 2013 digital dividend auctions for $1.3billion.

“This latest investment at least doubles and in some places triples the amount of spectrum in the 1800 MHz band that we may use to provide 4G services in some areas. The 1800MHz was the foundational band for 4G in Australia and it will benefit all 4G customers, even those with earlier 4G devices.”

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