Vodafone CEO repeats telco's call for USO overhaul

Voice of LTE and Wi-Fi calling launching "very soon", CEO reveals

Vodafone Australia CEO Iñaki Berroeta has reiterated the telco's call for a thoroughgoing overhaul of Australia's Universal Service Obligation scheme.

The scheme is designed to make sure that all Australians have access to a 'standard telephone service' (STS) regardless of where they live.

Telstra is contracted by the government to deliver the USO at a cost of around $253 million every year.

Berroeta said today at a media briefing that a "much more technology-agnostic" approach to delivering services in regional and remote areas needed to be taken.

There should be a "helicopter view" of delivering communications to regional areas instead of a "collection of individual actions".

In a submission last month to the government's Regional Telecommunications Review, Vodafone called for the creation of a USO alternative dubbed the 'Universal Service Fund' (USF) to fund non-commercial telco infrastructure.

A plan should be developed to phase out Telstra's current USO obligation and funds provided to NBN To deliver "a modern Standard Communications Service delivering voice and broadband capability to all premises", stated a paper by Professor Reg Coutts that was submitted to the review by Vodafone.

The USF could also be used for a broader range of services such as improving mobile coverage through an expanded mobile blackspot program and other communications technologies such as public Wi-Fi.

Along with Telstra, Vodafone emerged as one of the winners from the government's $100 million mobile blackspot program, which is intended to increase mobile coverage in regional areas.

Vodafone rejigs plans

Vodafone today also unveiled significant changes in its mobile phone plans. All new business and consumer prepaid and postpaid Vodafone plans will now include unlimited national calls and texts.

Vodafone's plans have been significantly simplified, the telco said

The telco announced automatic overage for international calls, with customers who exceed their included international minutes automatically charged at flat rate $6 for 60 minutes for additional usage.

Another anti-bill-shock measure is the ability for a primary account holder to easily switch data on and off for linked accounts through the telco's MyVodafone app.

The transition to 4G has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of data usage on Vodafone's network, Berroeta said today.

There has been an increase of 85 per cent in weekly 4G data usage on the Vodafone network in 2015.

"Today we carry much more traffic on 4G than we do on 3G. And this shift has happened extremely quickly," Berroeta said.

The transition to 4G has occurred at a much faster pace than transition to 3G, the CEO said.

Vodafone now reaches 96 per cent of Australia's metro population with 4G services.

Berroeta said that Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Wi-Fi calling would launch "very soon" on Vodafone's network.

Optus earlier this month launched an app that supports Wi-Fi calling, but Berroeta said Vodafone did not intend to produce an app for the service.

Overall there has been a "dramatic shift" in the business performance of Vodafone, Berroeta said, with the telco growing customers and revenue.

"This is what we said we were going to do and this is what we wanted to and this is why our shareholders are quite happy with the way that the business is performing," the CEO said.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia connections are up 22 per cent on the first half of 2014, and the telco is also seeing increased customer retention with disconnections down 3 per cent on the first half of 2014, the CEO said.

Vodafone last month reported a drop in mobile services overall on its network in the half ending 30 June, due to a number of shifts in the wholesale market.

However, Vodafone had 4.86 million direct customers on its network, up from 4.76 million at the end of June 2014.

Total revenue for the telco grew by 2.9 per cent half-on-half on the back of increased service revenue.

Vodafone reported revenue of $1.77 billion for the half, up from $1.73 billion for the half ending June 2014.

Losses grew to $183.6 million — up from $158.6 million in the prior comparable period. The increased losses were attributable to increased acquisition and retention costs and the increased direct cost of offers on content and international calling, the telco's CFO, James Marsh, said last month.