Telstra sells 4G LANES for mining, enterprise

After a successful pilot of dedicated 4G 'lanes' for emergency services during the G20 last year, Telstra is now selling the service in enterprise, particularly mining.

Telstra is looking to sell its 4G "lanes" service dedicating spectrum for specific purposes beyond just emergency services and into enterprise and the mining industry.

The company has conducted pilots of the technology to dedicate specific "lanes" of spectrum for emergency services in Perth and Brisbane, and used its LANES service during the G20 Summit in November last year in partnership with Motorola Solutions.

As the Productivity Commission looks at the best model for emergency service networks -- either a private network, or a hybrid network with commercial carriers, or a complete service on the commercial networks -- Telstra is continuing to develop and push for emergency services to use its LANES service to guarantee dedicated network connections for voice and data during times of crisis.

Alex Stephan, Telstra's national general manager of government and public safety and security, told the APCO conference on Wednesday that Telstra is looking to get standards and devices in place for LANES, and is looking at the possibility of using voice over LTE (VoLTE) for emergency services. Telstra would also advocate for the LANES option as part of the Productivity Commission's review.

"The activities we've done to date are to basically various models that can actually be adopted within Australia," he said.

"Those that we've enabled to date are to demonstrate how they would operate, and it uses our own 900MHz spectrum."

Stephan said that LANES would also be beneficial for enterprise, where the company is now also selling the product.

"In the enterprise space, we are actually deploying LANES for enterprise. We actually have businesses, especially in the mining sector that have their own LTE spectrum, and they are working with us to expand the Next G network to provide those services."

He said the company has noticed a big difference between working with emergency services for LANES and enterprises.

"In all the other industries, the capacity requirement is well known -- you know exactly how many trucks are on a mining site -- however, the emergency service is the only one that has a dynamic profile," he said.

"They might go a year or two years without much strain on the capacity on the network, and then in half an hour it can be 100 percent capacity."

It comes as the telcos face competition from the mining sector for spectrum, with Rio Tinto lodging a submission with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) this week, stating that if there is to be an auction of 1800MHz spectrum in regional areas, it would like to use 1800MHz for wireless services in its aluminium mines in northern Australia.

"Rio Tinto would utilise the 1800MHz band for the deployment of private wireless data networks. These networks would be deployed for safety, control, corporate and emerging systems purposes, and would be contained to specific localised geographical areas where apparatus licensing would be the most beneficial and efficient use of spectrum," the company said.

Rio Tinto argued that spectrum licences for the 1800MHz spectrum band could lead to unused spectrum in areas where companies like Rio Tinto could use it for their own 4G networks.

"Rio Tinto believes that any spectrum purchase should be on a 'use it or lose it' basis. That is, no organisation should be able to block others from using the spectrum by purchasing spectrum and not using it, or offering it for resale to other potential users," the company stated.

In Telstra's own submission, the company argued that there should not be competition limits on the amount of spectrum a carrier can obtain, noting that the auction of the 700MHz spectrum band resulted in spectrum left unsold due to the competition limits.

Optus, however, argued that competition limits should be in place, because up until the 700MHz 4G rollout, Telstra had "a monopoly" on 4G in regional areas due to regional 1800MHz spectrum it picked up in 1998 at an auction without such competition restrictions.

Vodafone similarly argued for competition limits, noting that Telstra held 60 percent of all spectrum licences in regional areas.

Josh Taylor travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Motorola Solutions.