Optus And Vodafone To Share 3G And 4G Sites: What It Means For Consumers

Optus and Vodafone have signed an agreement to share more of their 3G and 4G infrastructure, allowing them to expand coverage more quickly and for Vodafone customers in regional areas to eventually roam onto Optus' network where Vodafone coverage is weaker or non-existent. What will that mean for customers of both networks? Will it threaten performance and reception? What happens if you access those networks via another provider? We've got all the answers.

The joint venture agreement isn't finalised yet, and still requires approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). But assuming it goes ahead, here's what it will mean.

What are the two networks actually sharing? Access to existing mobile towers and sites, particularly in capital cities( Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Geelong, Central Coast, Gold Coast and Canberra), and the construction work on some new sites. Using existing sites speeds up rollout; Optus estimates that this will take 12-18 months off its plans to roll out 4G. Given that Telstra already has broad 4G coverage, both Optus and Vodafone will welcome any speed improvements.

The approach also cuts down on complaints from local residents over multiple tower rollouts: as a spokesperson told us, "Optus and VHA will be able to co-locate the majority of their new infrastructure on existing sites minimising the impact of a large infrastructure rollout on local communities." (Conversely, it might make an easier single target for activists.)

I'm an Optus customer. Will I get poorer reception because all those Vodafone-using sops are gagging to get decent bandwidth? No. The sites are shared, but the infrastructure remains independent. You'll get your connection from the provider you signed up with.

Will this help in regional areas? If you're a Vodafone customer in a weaker reception area, you'll be roamed onto Optus, which potentially will mean better reception. But that won't happen until April 2013, and will be fixed for a five-year period.

Will I have to pay more? Right now, no. The changes are at the network level, and won't alter individual customer agreements at this stage. (No word yet on the finer Vodafone's roaming plans for next year, though.)

Will I benefit from this if I'm using a service from a mobile virtual network operator which uses Optus or Vodafone? These changes are being made at the network level, so they will offer the same improvements for other providers (such as Amaysim, Boost, iiNet and Virgin on Optus, or Crazy John's and Red Bull on Vodafone) using those networks.

Will this change global roaming arrangements? No. It's an Australia-only deal. When you head overseas, you'll still need to make the right arrangement with your provider. (Optus has good deals for Asia via Bridge DataRoam; Vodafone has broad but variable coverage in Europe.

Can Vodafone customers latch onto Optus' new 4G network? Not at this stage. Optus' Central Coast trial is invitation-only, and this agreement won't change things. Eventually (in theory), regional roaming onto 4G might be possible, but since Optus' initial 4G rollout is aimed at capital cities, that's not going to happen for a while.

While it would be easy to panic and see this as a potential bottleneck, it also means that Optus and Vodafone will be able to speed up their network building and improvement activities. Given that mobile networks inevitably deteriorate as they become more popular, that's a welcome development.

This isn't the first time mobile networks in Australia have shared infrastructure. Prior to its merger with Vodafone, the now all-but-defunct 3 used Telstra in areas where its own 3G network didn't operate. However, 3 imposed extra charges on customers for the privilege, something that apparently won't happen here.

Picture by Cogdog/Getty Images



    "However, 3 imposed extra charges on customers for the privilege, something that apparently won’t happen here."

    Considering 3 are still doing this when using Vodafone infrastructure, and 3 is effectively Vodafone, that's what makes me skeptical that the assumption "apparently" will be good enough. Is there a way you can get official confirmation that no extra charges will be brought to bare against either Optus or Voda customers?

      Three still use there own infrastructure. And they will continue to do so until eventually the network is cut. Firstly thebtelstra agreement should end this year and then once everyone has been migrated to Vodafone they will slowly turn off the Hutchison towers.

    Its only taken 20 years for them to wake up and realise this is the smartest, greenest business model. What a shame Telstra hasn't joined in.

      20 Years? They did this with the initial 3G rollout...the difference then was Optus/Voda shared infrastructure and links

      why would telstra possibly want to taint their network with optus, voda and every other subsidiary hanging off their asses? please.

    I'm still on Three and won't surrender the contract until someone starts selling full-strength 4G, that is with a ceiling of 100mbps down, 50mbps up.

    Franz, unfortunately we will be forced onto Vodafails network by August this year. Wish we had a choice but apparently we don't.

    As someone who actually uses Vodafone even after Vodafail (Believe me I have had plenty, especially with the billing system), but there network coverage is terrible around Brisbane. At King-George Square I can't load facebook... or in my house I can get maybe two bars. They need this terribly, also not to spend more money on ads for AFL teams then on network infrastructure...

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