Telstra has announced the addition of 4G voice services to its small cells being rolled out across rural and regional areas of Australia, with 50 sites having been activated thus far and another 10 locations due to be activated by June.
Until now, the small cells -- which are miniature base stations -- only provided data services, with voice coverage remaining unchanged in the under-served areas where they were being installed. Telstra flagged in June last year that it would be working on adding voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology to enable voice calling.
"This technology highlights the ongoing investments we are making in our mobile network for our rural customers," Telstra MD of Networks Mike Wright said on Monday.
"We know how important mobile voice calling is for local communities and businesses, and we are proud to be the first carrier in Australia to provide voice calling via 4G-only small cells."
Small cells are rolled out in areas where it is not economically viable to build a mobile tower, with the infrastructure providing faster and more reliable mobile connectivity for those living within up to 300 metres of the small cells.
While Telstra's commitment to installing small cells was made as part of the federal government's mobile blackspot program, it is using its own funding for the project.
"When we made our bid under Round One, our core objective was to maximise new coverage to regional communities, which is why we made this additional pledge to further expand mobile data services at our own expense," Wright explained in June last year.
"We worked closely with the federal government to identify the communities who were eligible for this small cell technology ... we will also continue to work with the government to identify further opportunities to deploy this innovative technology to more rural areas."
The miniature base stations have now been built out in 50 of the areas flagged by Telstra in June to receive the technology, with only the location of Neergabby, Western Australia, added.
Those already activated are in Bute, Caltowie, Coobowie, Farrell, Geranium, Gumeracha, Kangarilla, Kalangadoo, Lipson, Monash, Myponga, Pinery, Port MacDonnell, Spalding, Terowie, Truro, Wirrulla, and Yeelanna, South Australia; Bexhill, Bookham, Booral, Bukkulla, Bulga, Gunderman, Bunyah, Deepwater, Jiggi, Karuah, Liston, Main Arm, Taylors Arm, Wantabadgery, Watsons Creek, Wollomombi, and Wyndham, New South Wales; Cavendish, Cheshunt, Maroona, and Smeaton, Victoria; Bramston Beach, Binna Burra, and Hillview, Queensland; Colebrook, Lilydale, Sprent, and Yolla, Tasmania; and Calingiri, Kirup, Neergabby, and Tammin, Western Australia.
According to Telstra's list from last year, yet to be activated are the areas of Balgowan, Cape Jaffa Anchorage, Mintaro, Norton Summit, Port Neill, Sevenhill, Stockport, and Yundi, SA; and Ballimore, Bellbrook, Bostobrick, Brungle, Bunnan, Burrinjuck, Bylong, Chillingham, Euabalong, Euchareena, Gwabegar, Humula, Kulnura, Lower Portland, Modanville, Mogriguy, Old Grevillia, Rappville, Rugby, Rye Park, Tabulam, Tallimba, Tyringham, and Wollar, NSW.
Also as yet unactivated are the regions of Alva Beach, Avondale, Boreen Point, Cawarral, Cherbourg, Dingo SCAX, Hampton, Injinoo, Injune, Innot Hot Springs, Lake Tinaroo, Mena Creek, Moranbah Airport, Morven, Mourilyan Harbour, Mungallala, Murray Upper, Palmer River Roadhouse, Peranga, Reesville, River Ranch, Seisia, Severnlea, Tarzali, Tingoora, Umagico, Woorabinda, and Wowan, Queensland; and Adventure Bay, Avoca Exchange, Beechford, Nile Exchange, Swanwick, Weymouth, Borung, Cavendish, Cheshunt, Dargo, Darraweit Guim, Dartmouth Dam, Gellibrand, Hill End, Maroona, Navarre, Smeaton, Tarrawingee, Tooborac, and Traralgon South, Tasmania; and Coolup and Gingin West, WA.
None of Telstra's small cell locations in the Northern Territory have been activated either, but will cover Aileron Station, Aurora Kakadu Hotel/Roadhouse, Hay Creek Road-Stuart Highway, Jilkminggan Community-Roper Highway, Lake Bennett, Mcarthur-Carpenteria Highway, Renner Springs-Stuart Highway, and Tipperary Station Road.
Rival telecommunications carrier Optus has also been installing small cells across regional areas to boost mobile coverage, including in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia, and will build 18 new mobile towers in a AU$8.2 million spend announced last week.
Under round two of the Australian government's mobile blackspots program, Optus will additionally be building 114 new mobile sites -- 49 small cells and 65 base stations -- while Telstra is responsible for 148, down from the 429 it was allocated under round one.
By comparison, Vodafone Australia will build out just four mobile base stations after being responsible for 70 under round one.
All three telcos last month also announced that they would be taking part in the Victorian government's AU$18 million Regional Rail Connectivity Project through which mobile coverage for railway commuters on the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon, and Seymour lines will be increased.
As part of the rail connectivity project, Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone will build out around 35 new mobile towers along the train lines, with completion due in 2018. They will also install reception repeaters on trains, enhancing the signal from mobile towers along the train lines.