Telstra improves battery reserves to 12 hours at 341 regional mobile sites

Telco collecting 100TB of monitoring data from its network each day.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

Telstra has completed an eight-month project to improve the battery backup at 341 regional mobile towers from three to 12 hours. The Commonwealth government kicked in AU$11.4 million for the upgrade.

The telco said it moved over 8,600 new battery cells weighing a total of 500,000 kilograms across the country.

Following the Black Summer bushfires, the government said in May 2020 it would be spending AU$37 million to improve disaster resiliency.

"Our priority is to provide Australians with better access to reliable communication services, which is why we committed AU$11.4 million to boost the battery back-up power of these 341 mobile tower sites -- all of which were funded under Rounds 1 and 2 of the Liberal and National Government's Mobile Black Spot Program," Minister for Emergency Management and Regional Communications Senator Bridget McKenzie said.

"Access to telecommunications is vital before, during and after an emergency, so having longer lasting backup power sources will be critical to ensuring the community and emergency services remain connected during a natural disaster."

Telstra group executive for networks and IT Nikos Katinakis said the telco uses network data, customer feedback, and reports from field technicians to strength its network.

"Our monitoring systems now capture around 100 terabytes of network data each day, which helps us identify potential issues before they affect our regional customers," Katinakis said.

Beyond the federally-funded program, Telstra said it has replaced batteries at more than 2,100 sites since July 2019.

"Mains power outages cause the vast majority of interruptions to our services during emergencies," Katinakis added.

"When the mains supply of electricity fails, our battery back-up or generators kick in. But batteries and generators are not a silver bullet, especially when trying to protect this equipment during fire and floods and in the face of lengthy mains power outages of the kind we often experience during disasters.

"We have more than 10,900 mobile network sites that require power and the power requirements at these sites are enormous. A typical regional mobile site uses the same amount of power as over 60 family-sized refrigerators operating 24/7. This places logistical limits on the types of back-up power and how long it can reasonably maintain operation during a failure of mains power."

In May 2020, the Australian Communications and Media Authority said only 3% of mobile tower outages during Black Summer were due to fire damage, and of the 1,390 total facilities that were impacted by the fires outages, only 1% of incidents were a direct result of fire damage.

Network nodes were the most impacted telco infrastructure type, making up 56% of outages, with none due to fire damage. Mobile towers had the next highest number of outages, accounting for 36%.

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