Optus launches first blackspot site with small cell

Optus has switched on the first blackspot under round two of the government's program, with a South Australian town receiving mobile reception for the first time thanks to a small cell installation.

Optus has switched on its first site as part of the federal government's mobile blackspots program, saying it used its small cell technology to provide mobile coverage to the area.

Switched on at William Creek, South Australia, the small cell utilises Optus' satellite services and backhaul, with each small cell providing mobile phone coverage to up to 3km surrounding the cell. The technology is typically used in regional and remote areas, where it is not economically viable to build out infrastructure such as mobile towers.

Optus' satellite division owns the largest number of satellites covering Australia and New Zealand, with six satellites in orbit providing coverage to the region.

In December, the Australian government announced that Optus will be building 114 new mobile sites -- 49 small cells and 65 base stations -- in remote areas, and investing AU$36.4 million as part of round two of the mobile blackspot program.

For South Australia, AU$8.5 million has been co-invested by Optus, the state government, and the federal government, with Beltana Station, Blinman, Coward Springs, Farm Beach, Innamincka, Mindarie, Parachilna Pub, Parawa, Rawnsley Park, Maree, Puntabie, Stokes Bay, Winninowie, and Wynarka also to receive coverage under Optus' part in the blackspot program.

Optus has been installing small cells across Australia, including in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia. It has also been using the 1800MHz spectrum it secured for AU$196 million during the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) auction last year to expand its mobile networks.

"Real investment in regional and remote telecommunications services is the only sustainable way to improve competition, and strength and breadth of coverage in regional Australia," Optus vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs David Epstein said at the end of last year.

Optus is also rolling out its 4.5G network, which provides throughput speeds of up to 1Gbps, across the capital cities throughout 2017, having activated its first site in Sydney last month.

The 4.5G network uses a combination of 4CC/5CC carrier aggregation, 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO), and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), and was switched on in partnership with Chinese networking giant Huawei.

The 4.5G network is not only quadrupling capacity and increasing speeds for customers using mobile networks for media consumption; it is also a stepping stone towards 5G technology, Optus CEO Allen Lew said.

Round two of the blackspots program will also see Vodafone Australia build out just four mobile base stations after being responsible for 70 under round one, with the telco also investing AU$9 million of its own funding to construct 32 new mobile base stations across the country.

By comparison, Telstra is responsible for 148 mobile blackspot sites under round two, down from the 429 it was allocated under round one.

Telstra and Vodafone Australia switched on their first mobile blackspots back in December 2015 under round one of the program.

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