Home Telecoms & NBN Telstra trials small cell tech to tame Tassie mobile black spots

Telstra trials small cell tech to tame Tassie mobile black spots

In what is billed a Tasmanian first, Telstra has announced it would "trial the installation of small cell mobile technology on TasNetworks infrastructure to help fill some of Tasmania’s mobile black spots".

We're told the trial will "begin with a single site in the Weldborough area, where a small cell installed on TasNetworks infrastructure will provide new mobile voice and broadband coverage".

So, what's a small cell again?

Well, a small cell is a "miniature version of a standard mobile base station", with Telstra using the technology to "cost effectively deliver 4G coverage to areas where existing coverage is minimal or not available".

The man at the top of Telstra's telco totem pole, chief executive Andrew Penn, made the announcement in Hobart, and said the trial would "test the feasibility of using existing power poles to improve mobile coverage in parts of Tasmania".

Telstra noted that it has "a list of potential sites that have been identified for small cells on TasNetworks infrastructure should the rollout proceed".

These include "farming communities like Tunnack in the Southern Midlands, Pyengana in North East Tasmania, Forcett near Sorell, holiday hotspots such as Adventure Bay at Bruny Island and city infill sites such as West Hobart".

Penn said: “The construction of a mobile base station typically costs several hundreds of thousands of dollars, but can easily run up to $1 million-plus in some regional and remote areas due to distance and terrain.

“A small cell may allow us to deliver mobile coverage and capacity to smaller communities and areas where the construction of a mobile base station would otherwise be uneconomical."

Telstra reminds us that "small cells are already effectively delivering mobile coverage and broadband to several communities across Tasmania through Telstra’s own investment at 17 locations that include Taroona, Glendevie, Rocky Cape, Judbury, St Marys, Lebrina and Lake Barrington", so one could easily imagine this particular trial of Telstra's and TasNetworks will inevitably be super successful.

After all, it is said in some circles not to ask a question or have a trial or inquiry that you don't already know the answer to, and if previous trials have been successful, you'd have to use a not very imaginative imagination to make the analytical prediction that this trial might actually be successful, too.

That said, a trial is still a test, and in these testing times of black spots bringing forth bad connectivity, the trials and tribulations of a telling test should stand the test of time and tell us whether or not TasNetworks can turn its black spots white, or not.

In any case, Telstra said its announcement "follows the near completion of Rounds One and Two of the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program in Tasmania. Out of the 17 sites which Telstra was contracted to build under the programme, one site remains to be completed at Cramps Bay."

Telstra also stated it is "spending $14.5 million on 45 projects across Tasmania to improve and maintain mobile coverage in FY18 through capacity and speed upgrades to existing base stations, new small cells for 4G coverage, as well as Telstra’s contribution to the Mobile Black Spot Program".

Penn added: “We continually see the benefit mobile coverage brings to farmers, shop owners, doctors and schools in Australia’s remote areas.

“From supporting sales workforces in the field to small art galleries being able to take credit card payments for the first time, mobile connectivity is becoming more and more vital to small business growth and stability.

“This investment is just one of the ways we’re improving mobile and fixed line coverage for residents, businesses and visitors in Tasmania.”

Telstra said its announcement also "follows the August completion of the upgrade to Telstra’s transmission network connecting Tasmania - the first stage of a national upgrade to to improve capacity, flexibility and resilience - which more than doubled Telstra’s capacity on two subsea cables across Bass Strait to one terabit per second each".

Penn concluded: “Telstra is at the forefront of delivering world class mobile services to Tasmanians and we are determined to continue to lead as the development and introduction of 5G technology commences by 2020."


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.