Telstra wins big from mobile blackspot program

Telstra to build lion's share of mobile base stations under governments program to boost regional mobile coverage

Telstra has emerged as the big winner from the government's $100 million mobile blackspot program. The telco will build the lion's share of new and upgraded mobile base stations under the program, while rival Optus will build none.

The program is intended to boost coverage in outer metropolitan, regional and remote areas of Australia.

The government announced today that the program will cover 429 Telstra base stations and 70 Vodafone base stations. In addition to federal funding, state and local government are contributing to the program.

The base stations funded under the program are spread throughout the country: NSW (144), Victoria (110), Queensland (68), Western Australia (130), South Australia (11), Tasmania (31) and the Northern Territory (5).

According to the government the program will deliver mobile coverage to 68,600 square kilometres (150,000 square kilometres with external antennas).

Under the program's guidelines, rival mobile operators must be given an opportunity to co-locate at each base station before a design is finalised.

Guidelines issued last year for the program said the government weight to proposals in which more than one operator co-located on base stations, as well as bids that provided inter-carrier roaming.

In addition to the new towers Telstra plans to build, the telco will deploy 250 4G small cells.

"At this stage, the Small Cell technology can only provide data services, however, we are working on implementing Voice over LTE technology which will allow customers to make voice calls using 4G," wrote the telco's group managing director, networks, Mike Wright, in a blog entry.

The small cells have a 200-300 metre range.

A statement issued by the government said it expects to agree the locations for the 4G mini base stations with Telstra during the second half this year.

Over three years Telstra will spend $165 million Vodafone $20 million as part of the blackspots program.

Optus participated in the blackspots process but missed out on funding from the program.

"We are committed to communications for all Australians and regional Australia is a key beneficiary in Optus' recent major telecommunications investment announcement," a spokesperson for the telco said.

"Whilst unsuccessful on this round, we continue to work with the Government on ways to improve communications services in regional Australia – including infrastructure sharing opportunities."

The government also announced a second round of mobile blackspot funding. The government has earmarked $60 million over two years from 1 July 2016 for the second round.

"Round 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Programme is expected to operate under similar guidelines to the first round of the Programme, although the Government will review the results of Round 1 to determine if there should be any changes," said a statement issued by the government.

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