Optus pledges $1 billion boost to regional mobile services

500 new mobile sites

Optus says it plans to invest $1 billion by the end of this financial year to expand its mobile network in regional Australia.

Australia’s second-largest telco said that it planned to build 500 new mobile sites in regional and remote Australia; 114 of the sites will be funded in part by the governments Mobile Blackspots Program.

It will also complete the rollout of 4G support, upgrading 1800 3G sites, as well as adding additional capacity to more than 200 existing 4G sites.

The telco said it would expand its rollout of small cells as part of the investment program. Optus has currently deployed 30 satellite-powered small cell sites in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The telco will also use the funds to acquire necessary spectrum in regional areas.

Optus CEO Alan Lew said the plan “represents one of the single largest investments in regional mobile infrastructure in Australia’s history.”

“Optus’ funding is earmarked to expand coverage and improve overall network performance for residents, businesses, and our wholesale partners,” the CEO said.

“It will also help build the network resilience that is critical to supporting public safety and emergency services during natural disasters.

“Optus is building out its mobile network in the places where people live, work and travel to ensure they can lead a vibrant online life. Importantly, we are densifying the mobile network to provide better download speeds for data-hungry applications such as video streaming.”

Telcos spar over mobile roaming

Both Optus and Telstra have endorsed a draft decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to not introduce regulated mobile roaming, arguing that regulated roaming would have a detrimental impact on investment in regional telco infrastructure.

The ACCC issued the draft decision in May. Vodafone, which supports the introduction of regulated mobile roaming in Australia. has launched a Federal Court challenge over the ACCC’s inquiry process.

Yesterday at CommsDay’s Unwired Revolution conference representatives of the three telcos clashed over the potential impact of regulated roaming.

The ACCC’s draft decision is “the right thing for regional Australia,” said Telstra’s regulatory affairs head Jane van Beelen. 

“The ACCC really listened to what regional Australian stakeholders were saying in submissions and in meetings that the commission chose to convene with regional Australian stakeholders. It’s the right decision because it will continue to enable investment, and expanding coverage where that’s possible including with the help of the government’s blackspots program.”

“It creates the right incentives to continue to invest and importantly it also enables national pricing to be maintained so that those customers in regional and remote Australia who are expensive to serve still get the benefits of competition and the benefits of national pricing,” Van Beelen said.

Roaming won’t deliver the kind of coverage and performance sought by people in regional Australia, said Optus acting VP corporate and public affairs Andrew Sheridan

“We’ve announced that we’ll invest $1.5 billion in our next financial year – a substantial proportion of that is in mobile and a large chunk is in regional mobile infrastructure,” Sheridan said.

Vodafone’s group strategy officer, Dan Lloyd, said that from Vodafone’s perspective the impact of regulated roaming “is actually an empirical question”.

“You can look to virtually every large Western economy with large land area and low population density — the USA, Canada, Spain, France, New Zealand — and they have all regulated roaming. In some cases in the USA from the early 1980s; New Zealand, 2001; the others in the mid-2000s.

“You can go and look at what happened – you can look at the empirical data. What happened to investment, what happened to competition, what happened to coverage.

“I challenge anyone to point to any indication from any of those countries that it’s been anything other than a massive increase in competition, continuing increases in coverage, continuing increases in investment. And in many countries it has fundamentally changed and aligned the  incentives of the industry to invest in regional areas in the most efficient way.”

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