Vodafone survey backs NBN mobile infrastructure

NBN Co fixed wireless infrastructure should also deliver mobile services, survey participants say

Vodafone says a poll conducted by Empirica Research on behalf of the telco reflects popular support for using National Broadband Network infrastructure to boost mobile coverage in regional Australia.

The results of the poll of 1000 people living in rural parts of the country were released today. Eighty per cent of those surveyed were in favour of NBN Co's fixed wireless infrastructure also delivering mobile coverage.

Sixty six per cent of participants backed NBN Co building a mobile network "which all mobile providers could access"; 66 per cent found "extremely appealing" or "somewhat appealing" the idea of the idea of NBN infrastructure being used for mobile carriers to operate throughout regional Australia.

The telco's general manager of public policy, Matthew Lobb, described the result as a "resounding call from regional Australians to the government and NBN Co to look at the opportunities that the NBN can offer in meeting the urgent demand for better mobile coverage and choice in regional Australia."

"While this idea seems so obvious now, when the NBN was originally conceived in 2009, there was a strong focus on simply replacing the copper network to deliver a more robust fixed line network. Times have changed."

"It's no exaggeration to say that in the years that have followed smartphone and tablet technologies have fundamentally changed the way we communicate. NBN should now focus on improving both fixed and mobile broadband services."

Vodafone has previously indicated it would support NBN Co delivering backhaul services for mobile operators.

NBN Co's 2012-2015 corporate plan noted that the company responsible for rolling out the NBN had received requests from telcos to develop products that were suitable for use as mobile backhaul.

"This would allow the utilisation of NBN Co’s Fibre infrastructure for connectivity between mobile base stations and an operator’s core network," the plan stated.

"NBN Co is considering these requests and evaluating whether to develop products suitable for use as mobile backhaul. As no decision has yet been made, any potential impact from these services has not been included in the 2012-15 Corporate Plan."

According to Vodafone, it would require only minimal expense to deliver mobile services from the 2000 towers NBN Co plans to use to deliver fixed wireless in areas were rolling out fibre is deemed not feasible.

Vodafone's outgoing CEO Bill Morrow — who is due to take up the position of chief executive at NBN Co — has said that the NBN can drive increased competition in the telco sector.

Parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications, Paul Fletcher, has previously indicated that he was open to the idea of NBN Co providing infrastructure to mobile operators.

Australia's number two telco, Optus, has concerns about the cost of mobile backhaul but has yet to take a position on opening the NBN to mobile operators for that purpose, the company's chief country officer, Kevin Russell, said late last year. (Russell is finishing his stint at the telco at the end of this month).

The Vodafone sponsored survey focused on mobile provider choice in regional Australia.

The majority of participants indicated they supported government funding to eliminate mobile blackspots being used to build mobile towers accessible to all telcos or NBN Co constructing towers that would also be telco agnostic, rather than funding being provided to a single telco (presumably Telstra, which out of Australia's telcos has the widest mobile coverage).

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