Optus signs AU$16m deal for Victorian mobile blackspots

Optus and the Victorian government have co-invested AU$16 million to build out 25 mobile towers to provide coverage to 5,000 regional premises by the end of 2018.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Victorian government has announced a AU$16 million co-funding deal with Optus to build out 25 mobile towers throughout regional areas of the state.

The new infrastructure will serve around 5,000 premises with mobile coverage, with all towers to be operational by the end of 2019.

Optus said it provided a "majority" of the AU$16 million co-investment, with VP of Regulatory and Public Affairs Andrew Sheridan saying the announcement is an extension of its AU$1 billion commitment to provide coverage to regional areas of the country.

"Earlier this year, Optus demonstrated its commitment to regional Australia announcing a AU$1 billion investment to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia. Today's announcement is further testament to this, and we look forward to continuing to expand our regional capabilities," Sheridan said.

The 25 sites were selected through consultation with the government.

"Those living in regional Victoria deserve better mobile coverage in their homes, workplaces and while they travel, and we thank Optus for helping us get on with the job of delivering it," Victorian Minister for Innovation and the Digital Economy Philip Dalidakis said.

"We've invested almost AU$31 million in 166 new mobile towers across Victoria, connecting 20,000 premises that previously had no or poor mobile coverage."

Under the agreement, the government said one tower will be built to cover Ararat and Pomonal; two towers to cover Baw Baw, Thorpdale, and Willow Grove; three for Campaspe, Girgarre, Nanneella, and Wharparilla; one for Cardinia and Maryknoll; one for Colac-Otway and Kennett River; one for Corangamite and Port Campbell North; three for Golden Plains, Teesdale, Cape Clear, and Haddon North; one for Horsham and Lower Norton; one for Indigo and Yackandandah North; two for Macedon Ranges, Edgecombe, and Monegeetta; three for Mornington Peninsula, Tuerong, Tuerong West, and Main Ridge West; three for Moyne, Winslow, Woolsthorpe, and Hawkesdale; one for South Gippsland and Leongatha South; one for Yarra Ranges and Badger Creek; and one for Yarriambiack and Brim.

The Nanneela tower was switched on at the start of October and is already carrying traffic, Optus said.

According to the Victorian government, the Optus agreement was reached as a result of its state largely missing out on winning any sites in the third round of the federal government's mobile blackspots program (MBSP).

"The funding comes as Victoria looks set to be short-changed in the latest round of the federal government's mobile blackspot program due largely to a severe lack of consultation," the state government said on Tuesday.

"A list of proposed sites released by the Commonwealth indicates that just 19 of the 125 towers that will be funded under round three of the MBSP will be in Victoria. Due to this neglect, the Labor government has sought out other opportunities to help connect regional Victoria."

In all, the state government's co-funding of new mobile towers has provided over 166 regional areas with mobile coverage, 41 of these in partnership with Optus, with bushfire-prone areas being prioritised through work with the Emergency Management Commissioner.

The government also pointed towards its free Wi-Fi services in Bendigo and Ballarat, as well as its multimillion-dollar fund for connecting regional communities announced earlier this year as part of the state Budget.

In April, the Victorian government also announced an AU$18 million Regional Rail Connectivity Project through which it is aiming to improve mobile coverage for railway commuters on the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon, and Seymour lines in partnership with Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone Australia.

Under the rail project, the mobile carriers will build out around 35 new mobile towers along the train lines and install reception repeaters on trains, with completion due in 2018.

The Victorian government said it is the first Australian state to make use of this "in-train technology", which it aims to roll out to its entire VLocity fleet during 2018 if trials prove successful.

At the time, CTO Kevin Millroy said Vodafone also planned to invest AU$5 million to improve its mobile network throughout Victoria during 2016-17, while Telstra said the project complements its own network investments across regional Australia.

Optus has been installing small cells across regional areas to boost mobile coverage, switching on its first federal blackspot in March.

Optus will be 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.

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

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