First mobile blackspot round 3 site goes live

Telstra has switched on the first of the 89 'priority' mobile blackspot base stations it will be delivering across Australia under the government's third round of the program.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has announced that the first base station built under round three of the mobile blackspots program has gone live, with Telstra providing coverage to East Lynne in New South Wales.

The site will provide 3G and 4G services to residents, Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie and Federal Member for Gilmore Ann Sudmalis said in a joint statement, especially in the event of an emergency.

"Under the priority locations round alone, 125 identified priority blackspot locations will now receive improved mobile coverage," McKenzie said.

The government had in April revealed which telcos will be taking a slice of the AU$60 million funding under round three of the mobile blackspots program, with Telstra being designated 89 locations across the nation, Optus 12, and Vodafone Australia one.

Optus is building 114 new mobile sites under round two of the Australian government's mobile blackspots program while Telstra is responsible for 148, down from the 429 it was allocated under round one.

Vodafone Australia will build out just four mobile base stations under round two after being responsible for 70 under round one.

The government's 2018-19 federal Budget did not set aside any additional funding for the mobile blackspots program, despite calls for this from the opposition Labor party, but the government earlier this month said it would invest a further AU$25 million in a fourth round of its mobile blackspots program.

The Department of Communications last month revealed that one telco is using diesel generators to provide power for base stations under the federal government's mobile blackspots program, while another is storing its backup batteries "out in the environment".

"One of the carriers has about 40 base stations on the blackspot program where they are using diesel generators and have been for a long time," Assistant Secretary of Regional Deployment for the Department of Communications Lachlann Paterson told Senate Estimates.

"It's not ideal, but we've tried to focus on getting those base stations to deliver a service, while we wait for the mains power to get connected."

Telstra told ZDNet that it is using such generators to power "a small number" of its sites "in the interim" while they await mains power as part of a focus to provide mobile coverage to regional areas as soon as possible.

"Telstra understands how important mobile coverage is for all Australians, and is building more than 650 base stations under the federal government's mobile blackspots program," the incumbent telco told ZDNet.

With a majority of mobile blackspot sites therefore using batteries for backup power, Paterson said the telcos all "do it slightly differently", with Telstra storing its backup batteries within a shed to protect them from the environment.

As this generates a lot of heat, the department is also required to fund the shed's air conditioning, Paterson said.

"That's the Telstra solution," he said.

"Other carriers will go: 'Well, we are not going to have the cost of air conditioning and a shed, so our costs are down', but maybe the batteries have a shorter life because they are out in the environment."

Vodafone confirmed to ZDNet that like Telstra, it stores its batteries inside sheds and not out in the environment.

Optus did not provide a response on whether it partakes in free-range battery storage.

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