Vodafone investing AU$9m to build regional mobile base stations

In addition to the government's mobile blackspot program, Vodafone will invest AU$9m of its own funding to build out another 32 mobile base stations in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania.

Vodafone Australia has announced an investment of over AU$9 million to be spent on constructing 32 new mobile base stations across the country to improve telecommunications coverage in regional areas.

The funding is separate to the federal government's mobile blackspot program, under the first round of which Vodafone is building out 70 base stations in remote areas.

"Vodafone is committed to increasing coverage and choice for customers in regional Australia, and we've identified 32 sites which will build on our growth in areas outside the major metropolitan centres," Vodafone Australia CTO Benoit Hanssen said.

"Many customers living in regional and rural Australia don't have access to reliable coverage, choice of provider, or both, and we're determined to drive change."

The base stations will be built in Coffs Harbour Park Beach, Coffs Harbour CBD, Coffs Harbour West, Toormina, Coffs Harbour Industrial, Coffs Harbour Jetty, Coffs Harbour North, Tamworth showgrounds, South Tamworth, West Tamworth, Taminda, Tamworth Golden Guitar, Berrigan, Yeoval, Cudal, Tallimba North, Rushes Creek, Bendemeer, and Kootingal, New South Wales; Bundaberg East, Bundaberg North, Svensson Heights, Bargara, Elliots Heads, Burnett Heads, and Drillham, Queensland; Carrabin and Burracoppin, Western Australia; and Myrtle Bank, Scottsdale, Campania, and Ouse, Tasmania.

Most of the sites will be operational by the end of 2016, and all will be on-air by the end of 2017.

Vodafone's chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd added that the Universal Service Obligation (USO) -- which mandates Telstra as the fixed-line phone service provider of last resort, giving the telco hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the installation and maintenance of fixed-line services -- should have its funding redistributed to a permanent mobile blackspot program, an argument that Vodafone Australia CEO Inaki Berroeta has previously made.

"It's crucial that whichever party wins the election ensures the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the current Universal Service Obligation arrangements leads to meaningful change which benefits customers," Lloyd said on Monday morning.

"We think the AU$300 million in funding provided to Telstra every year to maintain an outdated copper network and payphones in regional areas could be much better spent.

"If a permanent mobile blackspot program was established, potentially using a portion of those USO funds, the number of regional areas to benefit from increased coverage and choice would increase substantially."

The USO is now facing government reform thanks to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review, which made 12 recommendations on how the government can improve regional access to telco services to leverage connectivity for business, education, health, and personal purposes.

Vodafone earlier this month encouraged those living in remote areas to use the upcoming federal election to persuade their local candidates via social media of the "urgent need" for greater mobile blackspot funding.

This was followed by the Coalition last week pledging to spend an additional AU$60 million to fund a third round of the mobile blackspot program to build or upgrade a further 900 mobile towers if re-elected.

"The biggest complaint about telecommunications is 'my mobile phone wont work'. So we had our first round, when we committed AU$100 million and leveraged AU$380 million total expenditure for just under 500 new base stations, which addressed 3,000 out of 6,000 nominated blackspots," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

"The second round, which Fiona [Nash] is residing over as the minister for regional telecommunications, is another AU$60 million previously announced. We expect that to address around 900 further blackspots.

"And this third round here we're announcing today, a third round of AU$60 million, which will bring the total commitment to AU$220 million, that is going to address another 900 blackspots."

The first round of mobile blackspot funding was opened in December 2014, with Vodafone and Telstra securing AU$185 million in government funding to build or upgrade 499 mobile towers across Australia.

In total, Vodafone will build out 70 cell towers while Telstra builds out 429, with the full rollout to be completed within three years.

The government announced the second round of its mobile blackspot program in early December, providing a further AU$60 million to bring better telecommunications coverage to regional areas. The government will announce the successful locations of round 2 at the end of this year.

Berroeta has since confirmed that Vodafone plans to participate in round 2 of the program.

Vodafone's push into regional telecommunications has seen it expand its 4G network nationwide by purchasing AU$68 million worth of 1800MHz spectrum and refarming its 850MHz spectrum band to bring coverage to regional and metropolitan Queensland, NSW, and the Australian Capital Territory; propose to the to the Australian government that it be permitted to pay AU$594.3 million for 2x 10MHz in the 700MHz spectrum band that was unsold in the 2013 auction; partner with the Regional Australia Institute and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on releasing a report on regional telecommunications based on a case study of Northern Inland, NSW, in April; push M2M as an answer for farmers in February; and partner with the National Farmers' Federation to develop an online platform for farmers as part of an effort to "digitally transform" the agriculture industry in December.

Vodafone's 4G network now covers 95.3 percent of the Australian population, or 23 million people, a 40 percent rise in network size over the past four years.