Telstra, Optus, Pivotel Receive Grant to Improve Rural Coverage

Rural Coverage

Government grant focuses on voice serces in rural areas

While urban Australia gets the most attention from telcos infrastructure, rural areas suffer poor service. The government’s Alternative Voice Services Trials (AVST) Program aims to solve this network disparity, and has now issued a $2 million grant to Telstra, Optus, and Pivotel to look for ways to improve network services in rural areas.

Telcos will explore different avenues, including fixed voice services, mobile services, and satellite services. With each of the three telcos involved already serving Australians, their experience should prove valuable.

And with new satellite phone competition such as Starlink coming into the Australian market and targeting rural areas, the brewing competition should be great for customers who currently have to deal with unreliable network services.

 The Alternative Voice Services Trials (AVST) Program

The Alternative Voice Services Trials (AVST) Program is the government’s attempt at improving voice networks in rural areas.

When telcos build infrastructure, they focus on areas with high population density – the higher the population, the higher the telco’s chance at recouping expenses and making a profit.

Unfortunately, this leaves rural areas with less infrastructure and attention from telcos. Hence the AVST, which has a fund of $2 million to aid telcos in exploring different ways that voice services in rural areas can be improved.

Australians who live in rural areas and are interested in participating in the program can register their interest in the AVST to trial any ongoing services.

The government also has the Mobile Black Spot Program (MBSP), which aims to improve mobile coverage and competition in rural and remote areas. The program already has a $380 fund, and co-contributions from the three major telcos – Telstra, Optus, and TPG Telecom (Vodafone).

With this much attention on rural mobile networks, some improvement is inevitable.

Telstra, Optus, and Pivotel AVST strategies

The $2 million AVST grant has been awarded to Telstra, Optus, and Pivotel. These telcos are already active in Australia, with Telstra and Optus being the largest major telcos in the country.

Pivotel is not irrelevant either – the company provides mobile satellite services to 80,000 customers across Australia and New Zealand, which is the perfect solution for rural areas.

Here’s a look at how each telco will approach their research:

  • Telstra will trial 300 services in several rural areas in the country, the largest number of trials amongst the three participating telcos. Telstra will offer consumers fixed voice services through their 4G network, and voice services via satellite.
  • Optus will focus on 15 trial services in the rural parts of NSW, Queensland and South Australia. Optus trial services include mobile and fixed voice calls, and optional broadband data.
  • Pivotel will trial 60 services in 30 rural locations. The telco will offer mobile handsets for calls as part of its trial.

And the best part of the program? None of the telcos will charge extra for the trial services.

Starlink – an upcoming rural satellite mobile service

While the government has the right idea with the AVST program, the private sector has seen rural areas as a profitable target for satellite phone plans.

Starlink is the latest in Australia’s satellite space. The company is an offshoot of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space program, and aims to provide mobile services to rural Australians via satellites without the need of any special handsets. That’s right, a mobile satellite service that allows you to use your current device.

Starlink will launch in the second half of this year, and has already began taking pre-orders on their newly launched website.

When compared to other satellite services like the NBN’s Sky Muster, Starlink wins in promised download speeds and low latency. Sky Muster will give you download speeds of around 12mbps to 25mbps depending on the plan, which isn’t bad at all. But Starlink is expected to hit download speeds of 50mbps to 150mbps, which is a boon for rural consumers if things go as promised.

However, current satellite mobile services, albeit slower than Starlink, are much cheaper. For instance, Sky Muster costs anywhere from $30 to $60, while Starlink costs a $709 deposit and just under $140 per month.

But for the sake of competition, all price points are welcome for consumer choice.

Final words

Competition is always good news for the consumer, and this is no different. With the rural areas finally getting the government’s and telcos’ attention, perhaps we will finally see some significant improvement in mobile and other networks in such areas.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.