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Vodafone 'not intending to collocate' on Telstra blackspot towers

Vodafone will allow collocation on 43 of its 70 round one mobile blackspots sites, with the telco 'not intending to collocate' on any of Telstra's 429 sites, the government has said.

Vodafone Australia is not intending to collocate on any of Telstra's 429 mobile base stations built under round one of the federal government's mobile blackspots program, a response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice has revealed.

"As at 11 April 2017, Vodafone is not intending to collocate on any of the mobile blackspot program round 1 Telstra base stations. This may change over the life of the program," the Department of Communications told Senate Estimates.

Vodafone is allowing carriers to collocate on 43 of its own 70 round one blackspot base stations, the department added, although this number could increase or decrease during the life of the program.

While the mobile blackspot program guidelines do not require base stations to be constructed for collocation unless carriers express interest in collocating on them, the government built several provisions encouraging collocation into its round one agreements.

Under the provisions, proposed base stations were awarded points when they could support a collocating carrier; collocating carriers were given the opportunity to help design base stations; carriers had to provide sufficient power to support collocating carriers and their equipment, including space for solar panels; carriers had to ensure communications huts were of a sufficient size to include collocating carriers' equipment; collocating carriers were entitled to be charged only incremental costs; collocating carriers were to be offered a discounted backhaul service where possible; and all carriers were given access to Commonwealth dispute resolution for when they could not reach collocation agreements.

After collocation was at a minimum in round one, the government further improved these provisions in the round two funding agreements.

A two-week extension of the time frame during which carriers can express interest in collocating was granted; collocating carriers were given the option to request and pay the incremental cost for a greenfield base station to be built in cases where it is not feasible to collocate on a brownfield base station; collocating carriers were provided with backhaul of a minimum capacity equal to the carrier's own backhaul service where technically possible; and collocating carriers were to be provided with backhaul services over microwave backhaul as well as fibre backhaul.

Minimum equipment collocation specifications have also been set out in each funding agreement under round two, with carriers to adhere to the regulator's specified backhaul discounts and impose "special linking charges" that reflect only the incremental cost of connecting the collocating carrier to the backhaul.

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

In total, Telstra is building out 429 cell towers while Vodafone builds out 70, with the full rollout to be completed within three years. Telstra was also commissioned to install 135 small cells in order to provide 4G services where its mobile infrastructure is already available.

Optus will be building 114 new mobile sites under round two of the mobile blackspot program while Telstra is responsible for 148.

Vodafone will build out just four mobile base stations under round two.

Last month, Vodafone added that it would collocate with all mobile carriers on 13 of its 23 new mobile base stations being built as part of the Victorian government's AU$18 million Regional Rail Connectivity Project, and will collocate with two carriers on five of these towers.

Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone will build out around 35 new mobile towers along regional Victorian train lines by 2018.

Despite the government's emphasis on collocating across partly government-funded telecommunications infrastructure, however, the competition regulator earlier this month decided that it would not be declaring wholesale domestic mobile roaming -- which would have allowed Vodafone to piggyback off Telstra's regional mobile infrastructure.

As the telecommunications carrier with the least network coverage across rural and remote Australia that has accordingly become a major proponent of infrastructure sharing, Vodafone had constantly argued in favour of domestic roaming, calling the draft decision a "missed opportunity" for those living in regional areas who will remain "hostage to Telstra".

Responses to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice also revealed that the mobile blackspots program "unspent pool" -- which houses the additional funds that were allocated to base stations that came in below funding -- is now sitting at AU$2.1 million.

The department said the unspent pool funding will be spent on base stations that are underfunded, additional base stations, or will be returned to the Commonwealth.

NBN RSPs setting aside VoIP allocation on Sky Muster

Also in response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice, the National Broadband Network (NBN) company revealed that it allows retail service providers (RSPs) of its Sky Muster satellite service to add 150Kbps prioritised data allocation for each purchased service to specifically support voice over IP (VoIP) services.

"In these instances, RSPs would also need to supply or support the end user equipment necessary to support VoIP," NBN said.

"Alternatively, end users can use over-the-top (OTT) applications such as Skype to make calls via the internet, but it is not prioritised as it would not be utilising the optional prioritised 150Kbps allocation.

"Feedback from RSPs indicates that VoIP services have been successfully deployed on Sky Muster."

As pointed out by NBN CEO Bill Morrow previously, it is not a requirement for NBN to provide voice services, with satellite users stuck on poor voice capabilities while their broadband is improved.

"The NBN satellite network has been designed and configured to deliver broadband and not voice. Existing voice services supplied over copper are maintained in fixed-wireless and satellite areas," NBN added.

NBN further described where it will be building its fixed-wireless towers in regional areas, with the company currently planning to build 2,532 towers in total: 681 in New South Wales; 648 in Queensland; 584 in Victoria; 259 in South Australia; 181 in Western Australia; 159 in Tasmania; and 20 in the Northern Territory.

The NBN joint standing committee has received multiple submissions asking for more fixed-wireless towers to be built and more premises included in its footprint rather than being put on the satellite service.

In submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the South Australian government said satellite should be a "last resort"; the Queensland government said the use of "lower-grade" NBN services for those living in regional and remote areas of Australia is unacceptable and inequitable; and the Northern Territory government slammed NBN's "technically inferior" satellite service.