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Vodafone and NBN Co explore tower sharing to improve coverage

NBN Co has entered into agreements with Telstra and Optus for the three companies to share mobile tower infrastructure, but Vodafone is still in discussions with the government-owned company.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co, Optus, and Telstra have entered into agreements to share tower infrastructure to improve mobile coverage for all companies, but Vodafone is still weighing up its options.

For 4 of the last 7 percent of the Australian population not covered in the National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre roll-out, NBN Co is constructing a fixed-wireless long-term evolution network. The company estimates that it will need to build or co-locate in 2,300 towers to cover the 500,000 premises for the fixed-wireless network.

A number of new towers have been approved for construction for the network, although the company has run into resistance from local residents in a number of areas.

NBN Co's preference is to find an existing tower to co-locate in rather than building a new tower, and the company said in answer to a recent question on notice from a budget estimates hearing last year that it had already entered into a tower-sharing agreement with Telstra and Optus that provides reciprocal access to NBN Co built-and-owned towers.

"Using existing wireless sites where they are appropriately located, with the terms and conditions negotiated by NBN Co, reduces peak capital demand and provides a stock of sites for NBN Co to deploy on a more timely basis," NBN Co said.

Under the Telecommunications Act, a carrier must, on the request of another carrier, give access to its tower to share the infrastructure, and NBN Co said that its towers are open to every carrier to request access.

"All mobile carriers are entitled to request access to an NBN Wireless site. NBN Co envisages that more than one mobile carrier may co-locate on a NBN Wireless site in the future."

NBN Co said that in the long run, this could improve the mobile coverage for other mobile companies too.

"[Shared towers] also result in positive externalities for regional and rural Australian through opportunities for improved mobile coverage."

Vodafone told ZDNet that it was interested in a formal agreement with NBN Co to share towers, but it hadn't signed on just yet.

"We have had discussions with NBN where we agreed that we will explore sharing options, but we haven't at this time formalised an agreement."

NBN Co said that it charges for access based on the lost capacity on the tower that NBN Co would have to replace if it required more equipment on the tower.

Last year, Optus and Vodafone entered into an agreement that sees Vodafone get access to an additional 1,800 base stations, while Optus gets access to an additional 1,000.

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