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ACMA eyes mobile network performance

Australia's mobile networks are set to be put the test by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) CEO Chris Chapman has indicated that the regulator will begin to examine how Australia's mobile networks are performing.

Following a major overhaul of the telecommunications industry code last year, aimed at simplifying the plans offered to telecommunications customers, Chapman told the Communications Day Summit in Sydney on Wednesday morning that the regulator intends to shift its focus to the quality of Australian telecommunications networks.

He said that this inquiry would commence in July, to give the mobile telcos some time to prepare after the auction of digital dividend spectrum for 4G services later this month.

"The ACMA understands that the industry will need some time after the auction. We will rest for the month of June," he said.

The ACMA will look at mobile network performance monitoring, and will seek the views of consumers on how Australian mobile networks are performing, Chapman said, and will then hold a mobile network performance summit later this year.

He would not confirm whether the authority intends to regulate mobile network performance.

"It is premature to discuss further regulation in relation to this initiative," he said.

Chapman said he expects the mobile telecommunication providers to be cooperative with the ACMA, and is confident it is a topic that the industry could come to grips with.

"It's one I know we need to nail."

The mobile telecommunications companies already have coverage maps on their websites, and ZDNet understands that the telcos are already looking at ways their coverage can be better detailed to consumers.

Following its network issues that began in 2010, Vodafone has begun offering a "network guarantee", which gives customers 30 days to test out the telco's network. If it doesn't meet expectations, they can cancel their plan.

Vodafone CEO Bill Morrow said on Monday that when customers come to Vodafone and there isn't a tower in their area yet, but there are plans for a tower to be installed, they should not sign up for a contract.

"I think that's just flat-out wrong. We can't serve you right now," he said.

He said the approach should be that once the towers are in place, Vodafone should check back with that customer to see whether they're still in the market for a mobile service.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull also flagged that mobile coverage would be something the Coalition would look at if it comes into government after September. He said that one of the biggest complaints in regional Australia is about mobile phone coverage.

"You've got to ask yourself, how out of touch that a government can be that it would engage in a multibillion [dollar] investment and do nothing to enhance mobile coverage at all," he said at the summit on Wednesday.

He suggested that the government could go to tender for the telcos to build new towers opened up to carriers, and the tender would go to whichever company could do it for the lowest cost.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has released an app allowing customers to log network issues.

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