Telcos partner with Victoria on AU$18m train line mobile networks

An AU$18 million Victorian government project will see Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone build around 35 new towers and install reception repeaters inside trains to boost mobile coverage along five regional train lines.

The Victorian government has announced its 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.

Victoria has partnered with Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone Australia to deliver the project, which will see the mobile carriers build out around 35 new mobile towers along the train lines, with completion due in 2018.

The three telcos will also install reception repeaters on trains, enhancing the signal from mobile towers along the train lines.

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

"This Australian-first project is a massive win for commuters on our five busiest regional rail corridors. No matter which network they use, they will see improvements," said Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade Philip Dalidakis.

"Regular commuters spend up to 20 hours per week on regional trains, and we need to keep them connected so they can keep in touch with their loved ones and use their travel time productively."

According to Vodafone Australia, it will be building 23 of the 35 new mobile towers. As a major proponent of infrastructure sharing, Vodafone said it will accordingly collocate with all mobile carriers on 13 of these sites, and collocate two carriers on five of its towers.

CTO Kevin Millroy said Vodafone also plans to invest AU$5 million to improve its mobile network throughout Victoria during 2016-17. The telco has already reallocated its 2100MHz spectrum to 4G services in regional areas Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura-Wentworth, and Shepparton, after renewing its spectrum licence in this band for AU$544 million.

Vodafone last week also won 2x 5MHz of mobile broadband spectrum in the 700MHz band during the regulator's mobile broadband spectrum auction for a total of AU$285.9 million in an effort to improve data coverage throughout regional and metro areas.

Telstra welcomed the Victorian government project, saying it complements its own network investments across regional Australia.

"We have already made significant network investments along these rail links, extending our 4GX footprint as part of our ongoing commitment to regional Australia," said Telstra director of Wireless Network Engineering Channa Seneviratne.

"As a result, once the in-train repeaters are installed as part of the Victorian government's investment, Telstra customers will have in-train coverage for close to 95 percent of the regional rail routes, provided by Telstra's existing infrastructure.

"Our further investment in additional infrastructure as part of this project will increase that in-train coverage of the routes to 99 percent for Telstra customers."

Optus, which has been installing small cells across regional areas to boost mobile coverage, also welcomed the project, saying it demonstrates that telcos and governments can partner on bringing coverage to regional areas.

"Initiatives such as this, and national initiatives such as the mobile blackspot program, showcase how governments and telcos can work together to reduce mobile black spots across Australia," Optus manager of Mobile Access Planning Vin Mullins said.

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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