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Federal government playing 'cynical political exercise' with Mobile Black Spot restructure

22 May 2017

The federal government’s Mobile Black Spot Program has come under fire from regional Labor MPs, with a restructure following the recent WA state election being labelled “nothing more than a cynical political exercise”.

Federal shadow minister for regional services Stephen Jones said that the announcement of government priority locations in round three of the program – which aims to eradicate mobile phone coverage black spots from regional areas – showed Regional Development Senator Fiona Nash’s decision to restructure had “confirmed that any merit process for ranking mobile black spots in order of community need or priority has all but been abandoned by the Turnbull Government”.

“Despite promising a competitive process two months ago, this has now been abandoned by the Minister,” Mr Jones said.

“And even though the Government also promised that the scheme would improve mobile coverage in areas prone to natural disasters, the electorate of McEwen, held by Labor MP Rob Mitchell has missed out.

“Not surprisingly, there are three times as many Government Priority Locations in Coalition electorates.

“All of the 29 locations that fall in Labor electorates are those that were marginal at the 2016 Federal Election.”

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Improved mobile, data cover vital

22 May 2017

The significant impacts of the Federal Budget cut to mobile blackspot funding for the regions and the lack of priority for improving phone and data connectivity have been outlined by a communications lobby group.

Members of the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) say the decision not to include funds for Round 4 of the Mobile Blackspot program will mean many consumers will not see improvements to coverage in the near future.

The RRRCC has about 20 member organisations including the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR).

Members say demand will “far outstrip” available funding and improved coverage is vital for regional consumers.

Besides impacts on farmers and town-based businesses and consumers, there are many premises, vital community areas and high traffic areas at risk from having no mobile coverage.

They say rural, regional and remote areas should not be disadvantaged and want the government and telecommunications providers to build more towers.

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4G small cells set to connect Queensland mobile blackspots, but lack of coverage still common

22 May 2017

A new 4G small cell tower outside Bundaberg is the first of 39 to be launched in regional communities across Queensland over the coming 12 months, to help remedy mobile blackspots.

The State Government is spending $24 million to deliver mobile phone small cell towers to communities across the state as part of the Mobile Black Spot Program, a Federal Government project to improve mobile coverage along major transport routes.

The small cell at South Kolan, on the outskirts of Bundaberg, is one of 39 new stations to be set up across the state by the end of 2018, using Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone mobile phone carriers.

South Kolan was identified as a blackspot on the busy road linking Bundaberg and Gin Gin, with similar rollouts expected in the Wide Bay region soon in Burnett Heads, Rosedale and Bororen.

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Paterson MP Meryl Swanson welcomes construction of Fullerton Cove tower under the Mobile Black Spot Program

22 May 2017

The long-awaited Fullerton Cove mobile phone tower will be built at the end of 2018, Paterson MP Meryl Swanson has confirmed.

The tower, to improve mobile phone reception in Fern Bay and Fullerton Cove, has been identified among 125 priority locations in Round 3 of the Mobile Black Spot Program.

“This is good news, but it is not before time,” Ms Swanson said.

“Our community has put up with dreadful mobile phone coverage for long enough.”

The tower was a Liberal election promise in 2016 but there’s been little said on the matter since.

“It missed out on funding in rounds 1 and 2, but has been prioritised in round 3,” Ms Swanson said.

“Residents of Fullerton Cove and Fern Bay - including many who live in Bayway Village, Palm Lakes Resort and The Cove - have been lobbying for years for improved reception, and I have made numerous representations on their behalf.

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Telstra tower to improve service

19 May 2017

A telecommunication tower is likely to be erected in Elston Park, despite objections from the Dubbo community.

A development application for a 31.3 metre high tower and an equipment shelter, which will form part of Telstra’s existing mobile phone network has been submitted to Dubbo Regional Council.

According to a council report, Elston Park was chosen as the site for the tower due to service gaps within the existing Telstra network, and to avoid interference with existing telecommunication infrastructure and residential development.

Council’s director environmental services Melissa Watkins said there were two objections received by council on the tower, based primarily on how it would look.

To minimise the visual impact a landscaping plan will be submitted by the applicant, developed in conjunction with council’s parks and landcare division. Existing landscaping will also help to provide a buffer between the tower and nearby residences, the report states.

Comments were also received on the safety of the proposed development and a suggestion it should be located at the Dubbo Showground instead of Elston Park.

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Mid May Update

19 May 2017

Again, things seem to be slow at the moment across the board. Telstra added 13 new sites as well as upgraded a further 48 sites all of which were spread out across the country. Upgrades focused on 4G700 however some sites got 4G1800 with 4G700 getting enabled sometime in the near future. Telstra has announced as a result of rural roaming being put on hold a further 600 rural sites will be upgraded to 4G.  That would bring Telstra’s total 4G sites to just under 6000 sites, but assuming all of those sites will include 4G700 that would also bring their low band 4G tower count to around 4400 sites, still well behind what Optus has currently active. The whole thing just feels a little disingenuous to me, a slap in the face to anyone living in rural and remote communities.  What’s going to happen to the remaining 1600ish sites? Are they to reman 3G indefinitely, creating a mobile backwater?

Optus continues installing new sites at a rate of knots with 20 new sites, 13 of which were in QLD alone. Optus also upgraded 21 sites again mostly in QLD with a spattering of all 4G bands but mostly 4G700.

Vodafone is plodding along with 8 new sites and 22 upgrades with NSW featuring heavily. 4G2100 was the main focus but with a spattering of other bands also. I haven’t seen any 4G700 proposals from Vodafone yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing those.

NBN activated 10 new sites with 10 sites also receiving upgrades.

The low band 700mhz 4G gap between Optus and Telstra has decreased by 2 sites as Optus takes a bit of a breather. Optus is still ahead of Telstra however in 4G700 by 1093 sites.

Queensland patches mobile black spots with new small cell sites

19 May 2017

Telstra mobile network resellers will soon have more to offer regional Queenslanders, in terms of coverage, with the state government set to roll out dozens of new 4G small cell sites.

Regional communities across Queensland are set to see improved mobile phone coverage, with 39 4G small cells to be installed over the next year, Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy, Leeanne Enoch revealed on 18 may.

The latest rollout of 4G cells are among up to 50 such sites that have been secured through the Queensland Government’s co-funding arrangement with Telstra for round one of the Mobile Black Spot Program.

Each small cell will provide 4G mobile connectivity over a coverage footprint of approximately 200 to 300 metres.

“Mobile phone black spots have been a huge concern for many regional communities, with poor coverage presenting serious safety concerns,” Enoch said.

“Local businesses are also hurting, so with this being Queensland Small Business Week, the new 4G cells will not only boost phone coverage - but confidence levels.

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Mobile blackspot in Federal Budget funds

19 May 2017

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has said the federal Budget has to make ends meet when asked why it contained no new funding for the regional Mobile Blackspot  program.

Mr Joyce referred to the federal government’s investment in the nbn satellites and investment in Australia-wide communications.  

"With any budget you've got to make ends meet. We're always going to bat for better outcomes but we've always got to do it in such a way that over the long-term we have our surplus.” 

My Joyce visited the Yeoval Show with Calare Federal MP Andrew Gee on Tuesday.

The Daily Liberal asked Mr Joyce why no funding was allocated for Stage 4 of the Blackspot progam to fix mobile and data connectivity problems, which were an issue for the Central West and Western NSW.

He said: “We've made sure that 25 new mobile towers have been financed in the seat of Calare, so we provide the finance for the construction of new and upgrading phone towers. We are making sure we roll out a service. Remember the Labor/Green independent alliance never put one out, not one.”

The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition, which is championing better mobile and data connectivity in the regions, said “disappointing” was the best way to describe the funding miss.

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Amaysim and Ovo Mobile debut 70GB data-only mobile plans

18 May 2017

Two Australian challenger telcos have come out with data-only plans to their product line ups.

Amaysim has added two new offerings to its data-only mobile plans which now include 50GB and 70GB plans.

Customers can get the 50GB plan for $65 a month and the 70GB plan for $80 a month. Amaysim has a no-contract approach which allows customers to move from plan to plan without paying any fees. Amaysim's plans run on a 28-day cycle.

Amaysim mobile commercial director Maik Retzlaff said: "The new data-only offerings are perfect for iPads, tablets or dongles, and will provide peace of mind for high data users, whether they’re streaming the latest Netflix release, working on the go, or indulging in some online shopping."

Vaya, the telco owned by Amaysim, offers similar plans that are slightly cheaper. Vaya's 50GB 4G data-only plan costs $59 per month and the 70GB is $79 a month, which were both plans introduced in February.

Vaya dropped its prices on 12-month mobile plans until 30 June by 30 percent. It's Unlimited L with unlimited standard national talk and text plus 3GB of data went from $288 a year, down to $204, or $17 a month.

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Telstra blackspot towers will host few rival antennas

18 May 2017

But 60 percent of Vodafone poles will allow co-location.

Only one out of every ten mobile base stations built under the first round of the mobile blackspots scheme is likely to host antennas from more than one telco, it has been revealed.

iTnews can reveal that Telstra received just 18 expressions of interest for equipment co-location on its 429 round one base stations.

By contrast, Vodafone – which was the only other telco to win a slice of the first round of funding – is “progressing” co-location at 43 of the 70 towers it deployed, a co-location rate of over 60 percent.

The numbers mean Telstra is likely to share just four percent of its federally-funded towers with a second carrier.

The raw numbers appear to add significant weight to accusations levelled by Vodafone – and strongly refuted by Telstra – about issues when trying to co-locate equipment on towers that had been built by its rivals under the blackspots scheme.

Telstra at the time called the allegations “highly unusual” and countered that it had “enabled co-location on 97 percent of the applications we’ve received to design and construct” over the past decade.

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