Optus Is Fixing Its Mobile Black Spots In The NT

Image: Optus/Thuraya

Optus owns and maintains the largest fleet of satellites across Australia, but at the same time the number-two telco can't rival its larger competitor Telstra for mobile network coverage in rural and remote parts of Australia. It makes sense, then, for Optus to boost its coverage in black spots using a series of small cells — lower-powered portable radio nodes that are much easier to install than a full mobile tower — that connect to its satellite network. And that's exactly what the company is doing.

Announced today, Optus will install small cell stations at 12 "remote yet popular" locations around the Northern Territory that don't already have Optus mobile network coverage — including roudhouses and "popular check-in locations" around the Katherine and Uluru along the Sturt Highway. The small cells will also be installed at some locations that don't have any mobile coverage at all, including remote Curtin Springs cattle station.

That "check-in" comment, though, is less about Facebook and Foursquare than it is Mainfreight and Linfox. For travelling truckies and remote workers, being separated from their home offices makes it more difficult to keep track of their location and status, and residents of the area need phone service even more than tourists that are just passing through. “This initiative is about delivering a choice in mobile services for workers and residents in and around these key locations, and enabling a ‘check-in’ capability for passing traffic such as travelling workers, truckies and tourists," Optus Networks' managing director Dennis Wong said in the announcement.

Small cells are regularly used in built-up areas where additional capacity on top of already-crowded mobile networks is needed, but their use outside of these areas is limited; Telstra deployed cell-on-wheels — or COWS — stations to Splendour in the Grass in 2014 and is deploying 200 small cells as part of the 2015 Mobile Black Spot Programme Optus is the only telco that has holdings in fixed-line, mobile and satellite networks, so it's uniquely positioned to be able to throw satellite-connected small cells into the middle of the outback. [Optus]

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