Mobile blackspots round 4 opens for applications

Mobile operators can now apply for a slice of the AU$25 million funding under the fourth round of the Australian government's mobile blackspots program.

The Australian government has opened up round four of its mobile blackspots program for applications, with the Coalition emphasising natural disaster-prone areas to gain access to more reliable network coverage.

According to Minister for Regional Services Bridget McKenzie, the government will also be looking to increase mobile coverage for farmers and regional businesses under the AU$25 million fourth round of the program.

"Round 4 will include public interest premises (PIPs)," the Department of Communications said on Monday, with operators now able to apply for a slice of the funding until December 10.

"PIPs include economic centres, emergency service facilities, local government facilities, health and educational facilities, indigenous community organisations, and not-for-profit organisations."

McKenzie said the mobile blackspots program has so far generated more than AU$680 million in new mobile infrastructure investment across the nation.

"I urge mobile network operators and infrastructure providers to apply and encourage all levels of government, community organisations and businesses to get on board," McKenzie said.

The government on Monday also announced that its 600th mobile blackspot has gone live out of the total 867 base stations that are being built under the first three rounds of the program.

The first site under round three -- the so-called "priority locations" round -- had gone live back in June, with Telstra providing coverage to East Lynne in New South Wales.

The government had in April revealed which telcos will be taking a portion of the AU$60 million funding under round three, 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 in June said it would invest a further AU$25 million in a fourth round.

The Department of Communications earlier this year meanwhile revealed that one telco is using diesel generators to provide power for base stations under the 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.

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.

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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