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Optus claims 100 percent mobile coverage thanks to satellite app

The telco has claimed that it will now provide 100 percent of Australia with mobile coverage -- as long as remote customers use SatSleeve and are within direct line of sight of its satellite.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Optus has laid claim to providing 100 percent of the Australian population with mobile coverage after the launch of its SatSleeve satellite service.

According to the telecommunications provider, satellite communications company Thuraya is supplying the SatSleeve+ and SatSleeve Hotspot to Optus customers, providing mobile services all over Australia as long as the customer is within line of sight of the satellite.

SatSleeve+ connects across Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Sony, HTC, and LG devices, turning them into satellite phones when using the iOS and Android SatSleeve app. The app will automatically connect voice, SMS, and data users to satellite services when out of range of the traditional mobile network after a one-off initial setup process.

According to Optus, satellite services are necessary thanks to the geographical sparseness of Australia, particularly for businesses in mining, agriculture, construction, transport, and forestry.

"In a country as vast as ours, living and working in remote areas is increasingly common," said Paul Sheridan, vice president of Optus Satellite.

"We know that the resources and mining sector boom has seen large workforces stationed in remote locations. With a SatSleeve, people can stay in touch when outside of mobile range."

SatSleeve Hotspot uses Wi-Fi to connect smartphones to satellite services.

"It acts like the home Wi-Fi, but delivers connectivity via Satellite rather than a fixed line," Sheridan explained.

The cost of SatSleeve is AU$15 per month at entry level on a monthly plan, with the SatSleeve+ and Hotspot unit setting customers back AU$899.

In July, Optus had the Australian Department of Defence extend its contract through to 2020 for use of their shared C1 satellite.

The department and Optus had initially collaborated to fund, build, and launch the C1 satellite in 2003, with Optus making use of the Ku-band and Defence making use of its Ka-band, UHF, and X-band frequencies for coverage across APAC.

Although Optus had briefly considered selling off its satellite division in 2013, it then extended the satellite's services to 2018 by signing a AU$19.5 million contract renewal with Defence in 2014.

Optus has not disclosed the value of its 2020 satellite contract with Defence.

"The extension of this important agreement to the satellite's end of life reinforces this important relationship with Optus," Commodore David Greaves, commander of Defence Strategic Communications in the Defence Chief Information Officer Group, said in a statement in July.

Optus' satellite division also brokered a deal with the company charged with rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) in February last year, with the federal government providing millions of dollars in funding for the new project.

In August, Optus announced that it would be opening up its satellite business continuity solution to small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers, providing them with a satellite alternative to switch over to in order to keep communications and core business applications running during a network outage.

The Optus Satellite Business Continuity service will now facilitate SMBs to run their everyday communications services as normal over ADSL, microwave, and 3G/4G fibre connections, and then switch over to satellite services during "network disruptions" where services would normally shut down, such as in cases of hardware failure, human error, fibre damage, and severe weather.

Earlier on Thursday, market research company Kantar revealed that Optus holds on to the second-highest number of mobile customers in Australia, after incumbent telecommunications provider Telstra.

Optus now accounts for 21.4 percent of the total mobile market, an increase of 0.5 percentage points year on year; in the no-contract segment, it lost 1.1 percentage points to hold 17.7 percent of the market; in the post-paid sector, Optus rose by 2.1 percentage points, to 22.7 percent; and in the prepaid market, Optus was down by 1.1 percentage points to 20.9 percent.

These numbers could soon drop, however, with TPG last month announcing that it has signed a AU$1 billion deal with Vodafone Australia to shift its 320,000 mobile customers from current provider Optus to Vodafone, with customers being offered bonus data as an incentive to move networks.

Optus, for its part, denied that the Vodafone-TPG deal would affect it to a large extent, merely saying that it is in discussions with TPG on future plans, and regardless continues to be a primary mobile network provider in the space.

"Optus remains the leading wholesale service provider in the market," an Optus spokesperson said.

"We are currently working with the TPG Group on revised wholesale arrangements, but expect to be a continuing wholesale provider to the TPG Group in the future."

Optus added that it cannot discuss its own wholesale arrangements with TPG due to contractual obligations, but said that it welcomes the increased competition and remains confident that customers will choose the Optus mobile network.

"Optus' national mobile network offers differentiation to other market participants," the spokesperson said.

"We respect TPG's decision to work with other providers, and welcome the opportunity to compete for customers based on our reliable network coverage, first-rate service, and compelling plans."

Optus encouraged any TPG customers who would prefer to remain on the Optus network rather than be moved across to Vodafone's network to get in contact, though they would need a new SIM in order to stay.

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