Telstra launches co-funded satellite small cells product

Australia's incumbent telco labels service from satellite-based service as '4GX-lite'.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Telstra has launched its satellite small cells product, dubbed the 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell, which is being pitched as allowing those in remote areas to co-fund a satellite-backed extension of the telco's mobile network.

The company is looking to deploy 500 of the satellite small cells in the next three years, and with speeds on the cells limited to less than 6Mbps, Telstra said they are not meant to support high-definition video streaming or video calls.

Small cells are set to be co-funded by Telstra and the customer -- be it a regional council, mining company, or private individual -- with customers needing to cough up an initial amount to cover the installation costs, with Telstra building and maintaining the cell.

"The Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell is a way to bridge the gap between what customers want and what is financially viable. This solution gives consumers, businesses, and local councils more control over where they can get mobile coverage, making them part of the decision making process," Telstra director of Networks Mike Wright said.

"A local council may want to bring mobile coverage to a particular remote tourist attraction to help boost visitor numbers through social media posts, whilst an agricultural business may want to enhance worker safety by giving people the ability to connect with each other if issues arise. The Satellite Small Cell reduces the cost of gaining access to new coverage from hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new base station to tens of thousands, making it a realistic proposition in these circumstances."

Telstra said it had conducted five trials of the product in the past year, and would have 16 trial sites by July.

The company also announced Winton Shire Council as its first customer.

"We're a remote area, driven by rural industry and tourism -- all industries where mobile coverage can provide so much in terms of innovation, connectivity, and safety. We look forward to getting our two Satellite Small Cells installed and operational so we can connect our people," Winton Mayor Gavin Baskett said.

Australia's incumbent telco has been using small cells with more traditional backhaul, such as its recent rollout in Melbourne that formed part of a program to increase LTE capacity and speeds in high mobile network traffic areas.

"We have been using small cells to extend coverage mostly in rural and remote areas for several years; now we are deploying them in some of the busiest locations in Australia as a cost-effective way to handle the ever-growing demand for data," Telstra ED of Network and Infrastructure Engineering Channa Seneviratne said at the time.

Telstra has previously said it would deploying 1,000 small cells over the next three years to prepare for 5G.

In May 2017, the company added 4G voice services to its small cells through the use of Voice over LTE.

(Image: Telstra)

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