Australia is a unique place, with our wide brown land not only a country, but an entire continent as well. And in a country that size, Telstra’s commitment to providing mobile services to regional Australia is not as simple as it sounds.
We believe that high speed mobile broadband services should not just be for people in the big cities and towns, but recognise there are some very real operational and financial reasons why it’s not possible to provide mobile coverage in some regional and remote locations.
This is when a little bit of innovation and “outside the box” thinking comes in handy. Using Small Cell technology, we will bring high speed 4G mobile broadband services to more people in regional and remote areas across Australia.
Traditionally, Small Cells have been used to boost coverage and capacity in densely populated urban areas, with many carriers using them to support services in office buildings and shopping centres. We saw an opportunity to take them out of the cities and into the country to see if they could be used in a different way.
Earlier this year we installed a Small Cell in Yangan – a small rural town in the Southern Downs Region of Queensland – to see how the technology would work in a regional area and what the customer experience would be like. What we found was that we were able to provide solid on-street 4G coverage to virtually the entire town, and the locals liked it.
So now we are rolling out Small Cells to around 50 sites across Australia and bringing these communities up to speed with the 87% of the Australian population already covered by Telstra’s 4G services. We will be starting with a small number of areas, with cells in Victoria, NSW and Queensland being switched on before the end of the year, with some more to come online in the New Year.
In some cases, this will be the first time residents will be able to access mobile broadband services, with existing mobile coverage in the area almost nonexistent. These would also be areas where it would not be commercially viable to build and maintain a full base station.
And while the 4G technology can’t support voice services in these areas just yet, with Voice over LTE emerging as a commercial solution across our entire 4G footprint at some stage in 2015, and from then they will be able to make voice and even video calls using capable devices. However, in the meantime those in corresponding 3G services areas will still be able to make voice calls.
As the first carrier to bring 4G to regional Australia, we are pleased to have the opportunity to extend 4G services to even more regional customers.
Data only service
At this time, the Small Cell rollout will only provide 4G data services, with no change to voice services in the rollout areas.
In some cases the data services provided by the small cell will extend past the local voice coverage area. A customer’s device may indicate that coverage exists, but that will be 4G data coverage only, that does not currently provide voice calling capability. This includes contacting Triple Zero in case of an emergency.
We will be working with local communities to educate them on the technology, expected coverage and possible voice limitations. We will also be implementing an SMS solution to advise customers when they are travelling through a 4G only area.