Through our long-running participation with the Mobile Black Spot Program, we’ve brought coverage to remote communities all over the country. As we roll out our 700th Mobile Black Spot, we revisit Walhalla, the site of our 600th, to see how life has changed. From a mobile phone blackspot in the heart of the mountains, Walhalla now resembles the remote village of the future.

Welcome to Walhalla

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, Walhalla was once home to 4000 people during the height of the Victorian gold rush era – not long after the town itself was founded in 1862. The Walhalla Goldfields Railway has survived since then, and memories of the past remain with ghost tours a popular attraction for tourists.

We brought our 600th site in the Mobile Black Spot program to the town in mid-2019. With just 20 permanent residents living in Walhalla today, our commitment shows that we’re not about to leave any Aussie out of the thriving digital economy.

One of those residents is Councillor Michael Leaney: local politician and owner of the Star Hotel in Walhalla. He tells us that 4G in Walhalla has changed the way the town does business.

Growing digital businesses

At a fundamental level, 4G mobile coverage in the town enables things that you and I take for granted. Things like being able to text someone when you’ve left something off their shopping list. After all, the closest supermarket is over 45-minutes away by car.

It also allows residents to take care of issues themselves, as everyone now has connectivity in their pocket, Michael explains.

The residents can also now call 000 in an emergency, and stay informed during a potential disaster, such as the recent bushfire season.

Michael tells me that this year, the fires were 70km from Walhalla. Not as close as they have been before, he adds, but every year before now they’d had to listen to the radio for bulletins and guess how close the flames were. Now, the residents are better informed, and as a result, better prepared.

“World War III could have broken out before we had 4G, and we wouldn’t have known! But now we can find out,” Michael jokes.

Beyond basic safety, though, Walhalla can now grow its local businesses in ways it couldn’t before thanks to fast, affordable and reliable 4G connectivity.

Visitors to Michael’s business – Walhalla’s Star Hotel – would always complain on TripAdvisor about the quality of the Wi-Fi, but until 4G came along, Michael couldn’t do anything to fix it.

“People online in reviews would say it was a lovely place, but with crap Wi-Fi. We’d put a sign in our foyer saying we didn’t have capacity to make it better. The instant 4G was installed, however, we were able to upgrade our Wi-Fi and enjoy upgraded phone services and instantly it was fixed. One minute they were complaining, the next it just stops!”

Michael has leant into the technology at Walhalla’s Star Hotel, upgrading the reservation system, payment terminals and even the security camera system which can record footage into the cloud and alert him when objects are detected outside at night. That’s a feature he’s had to turn off, however, as the wallabies kept tripping the alarms.

Connectivity that other businesses would take for granted – like the ability to SMS your customers – has made Michael’s life easier.

Michael has noticed changes in other businesses, too. The old gold mine that now offers tours to visitors now takes bookings online, rather than just in-person. It also has mobile connectivity so it can interact with its customers in more convenient ways, too.

The scenic railways also has T-Go Boosters along the route to stay connected for the all-important selfie along the way.

Others in town are also getting in on the act as they see the possibilities thanks to better and more affordable connectivity.

Viva virtual tourism

Of course, COVID-19 has changed the way that Walhalla – a small town that thrives on visitors –interacts with the outside world. The global pandemic has had a profound impact on the Walhalla tourism scene. Situated in regional Victoria, the town has been subjected to enhanced restrictions in the wake of the state’s protracted second wave.

But the residents of Walhalla – those who would normally be tipping their hats to tourists and welcoming visitors to their sleepy mountain paradise – are finding ways to stay connected with their fans.

With a dog in tow, Michael will embark on a live streamed walk around Walhalla for the town’s fans on Facebook. All 20,000+ of them, tuning in each broadcast to get a slice of socially-distanced country life.

“It has allowed us to have a relationship with our visitors that we just couldn’t without 4G in the town,” Michael says.

“Back in March we decided to start doing virtual walks. Very simple: we just take our dog out for a walk and we use Facebook Live, just like the Premier! People comment, ask questions, and that would just not be doable if we didn’t have a 4G service. Now we’re getting on each video in the vicinity of 20,000 views.

“On the one hand that’s really sad, we’re just going out for a walk, but at 3pm a cohort of people just get on their treadmill and come with us,” he says.

More for less

And all that connectivity means that Walhalla can now engage with its fans, grow its businesses all while saving money on their bills according to Cr. Michael Leaney.

While growing the business and interacting with virtual visitors in new ways is good, doing it all while saving money is even better.

Michael showed us one of his previous bills, and talks about how he’s getting more than he ever bargained for with less to pay each month.

“The cost of telecommunications and internet have plummeted around here since the tower was turned on. At my hotel here, my monthly bill now is about $105 a month. Previously it was in the vicinity of $400 a month.

“4G data is a hell of a lot faster too – we went from about 11Mbps to around 40Mbps. We’re getting more bang for our buck.”

Our participation in the Mobile Black Spot Program is part of our long and proud history of investment in regional Australia. When the fourth round of the Program is complete, we will have contributed more than $280 million toward securing better connectivity for rural and regional Australia, and will have built over 780 new sites to improve coverage around the country.

We’re proud to switch on our 600th Mobile Black Spot site in Walhalla, and to connect Australia’s largestmobile network in a community that lives and breathes an important part of the nation’s history.

We look forward to bringing coverage to hundreds more small and remote areas across Australia through our participation in the Mobile Black Spot Program.