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Optus improves Northern Territory mobile coverage via small cells

Rural areas across the centre of Australia are being targeted by Optus' satellite coverage using small cells.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Optus has announced extending mobile coverage across 12 Northern Territory regions using small cells that leverage Optus' satellites rather than having to build out additional mobile towers in remote areas.

The small cells will be located in Mataranka, Daly Waters, Ormiston Pound Ranger Station, Elliott, Renner Springs, Three Ways, Barkly Homestead, Wycliffe Well, Barrow Creek, Ti Tree, Erldunda, and Curtin Springs, Northern Territory.

"This initiative is about delivering a choice in mobile services for workers and residents in and around these key locations, and enabling a 'check-in' capability for passing traffic such as travelling workers, truckies, and tourists," said Dennis Wong, acting managing director of Optus Networks.

Optus has been trialling its small cell technology, which provides mobile phone coverage to up to 3km surrounding the cell, in Oodnadatta, South Australia, calling the tests a "great success".

"As the only Australian telco to own and operate mobile, fixed, and satellite networks, this is a terrific initiative for Optus to leverage our expertise and introduce an innovative mobile and satellite technology solution to support our continued network expansion across Australia," Paul Sheridan, Optus Satellite VP, added.

"The use of small cells allow for the efficient provision of telecommunications services in difficult and often costly locations. While quite common in highly populous CBDs, we believe this is an excellent way to deploy this type of technology to deliver services to areas that are remote and geographically challenging."

Optus' satellite division owns the largest number of satellites covering Australia and New Zealand, with six satellites in orbit providing coverage to the region.

Optus Satellite last month also partnered with Ursys, allowing the latter access to its own satellite capacity along with that of its third-party satellite partners.

Ursys, which designs and provisions satellite-based voice and data communications including NT Connect for the Local Government Association of Northern Territory communities, will gain access to Optus' D2 satellite, alongside its teleport facilities in Belrose, Sydney, and wider infrastructure.

Similarly, Telstra is deploying small cells across 135 regional and remote locations in Australia as part of the federal government's mobile blackspot program.

The small cell sites were funded by Telstra, and are being installed in addition to the 429 base stations built or upgraded by the telco under the AU$94.8 million in funding received from the government as part of round one of the mobile blackspot program.

While small cells -- which are miniature base stations -- only provide data services, Telstra said it is now working on rolling out voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology to enable voice calling.

Vodafone Australia is also focused on improving mobile coverage in rural Australia: It will build out 70 cell towers under round one of the blackspot program; invest an additional AU$9 million in constructing 32 new mobile base stations; has expanded 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, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory; proposed 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; partnered with the Regional Australia Institute and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on releasing a report on regional telecommunications; pushed M2M as an answer for farmers; and partnered with the National Farmers' Federation to develop an online platform for farmers as part of an effort to "digitally transform" the agriculture industry.

Optus earlier this month reported a net profit of AU$173 million for the first quarter of the 2017 financial year on operating revenue of AU$2 billion and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) of AU$645 million.

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