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Vodafone boosts 4G network for New Year's Eve

Vodafone Australia is pushing out temporary cells on wheels to boost mobile coverage over the holiday period in high-traffic areas around Sydney Harbour.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

To prepare for the substantial growth in traffic across telecommunications networks on New Year's Eve, Vodafone Australia has said it will temporarily boost its mobile network by deploying portable cells on wheels (COWs) to deal with the influx of data usage, text messages, and voice calls.

According to Vodafone, international calling will double over the holiday period, with data usage increasing by 30 percent and SMS activity also doubling, from 1.5 million messages per hour to approximately 3.5 million during December 31 and January 1.

Calling its COW-serviced areas "red zones", Vodafone will be deploying the portable cells to areas that will see the highest amount of traffic, including around Sydney Harbour, where it is predicted that around 1 million people will congregate to celebrate New Year's Eve, as well as holiday destinations such as Bondi Beach, Byron Bay, and the Whitsunday Islands.

"We will have hundreds of engineers around the country live-monitoring our network performance to ensure peak traffic is managed efficiently," Vodafone head of Network Performance Yago Lopez added.

"These temporary sites will allow us to continue to deliver coverage and performance to our customers, even during this busy holiday period."

Vodafone also used COWs at popular fireworks vantage points such as Dawes Point and Mrs Macquarie's Chair last New Year's Eve.

The telco has been focused on expanding its mobile network throughout the last few years, with Vodafone in October quadrupling its network capacity in Canberra using the 1800MHz spectrum it secured during the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) auction earlier this year.

Vodafone spent AU$68 million to secure 11x 1800MHz spectrum in February: Four lots in the Australian Capital Territory, for AU$37 million; two lots in North Queensland, for AU$7.75 million; one lot in South Queensland, for AU$7.91 million; two lots in Tasmania, for AU$12.87 million; and two lots in Regional Western Australia, for AU$2.5 million.

Using the spectrum, Vodafone upgraded 84 network sites in the Canberra region to 1800MHz 4G to increase capacity by fourfold, and plans to upgrade another 19 sites over the next year.

Vodafone also refarmed its 850MHz spectrum band to bring coverage to regional and metropolitan Queensland, New South Wales, and the ACT at the end of last year; upgraded more than 3,300 network sites over the course of 2015; and recently committed to spending AU$9 million on constructing 32 mobile base stations across the country to improve telecommunications coverage in regional areas.

It is also pushing for 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 Australian Communications and Media Authority's auction.

Under the first round of mobile blackspot funding, Telstra and Vodafone secured AU$185 million in government funding to build or upgrade 499 mobile towers across Australia, with the former building out 429 cell towers while Vodafone builds out 70.

The funding for the second round of the mobile blackspots program, however, will see Vodafone build out just four more towers while rival telecommunications providers Optus and Telstra were given funding to construct 114 and 148 new sites, respectively.

As a result, Vodafone renewed its call for a declaration of wholesale domestic roaming by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which would see other providers piggyback off the infrastructure built in regional and remote areas by Telstra.

"Today's announcement is also a lost opportunity since Telstra has received 75 percent of sites under rounds one and two," Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd said earlier this month.

"This clearly risks further entrenching the dominance of Telstra, unless the ACCC declares a wholesale domestic roaming service."

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