Telstra has a new commercial offering to bring limited telecommunications to previously unserviceable rural and remote areas.
Small towns, agribusinesses, tourist destinations and remote worksites will be doing the sums on the company’s satellite small cell - a smaller, cheaper version of the existing non-satellite base small cell system that connects to the network via cable or fibre.
The satellite small cell provides voice, text and basic internet browsing - with download speeds between 2 megabits per second and 6mbps - which won’t make it easy to watch videos, but should accommodate email and social media use.
Telstra managing director network Mike Wright said the cost would vary customer by customer depending on the level of coverage and the cost of the new satellite cell, compared to existing small cells, would fall from “hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new base station to tens of thousands”.
The business model will vary on individual circumstances but typically the community would fund, or co-fund, installation costs and Telstra would run the service and maintenance.
Winton in Central West Queensland is Telstra’s first customer. The Shire Council has signed up for two satellite small cells - to service the Lark Quarry dinosaur fossil site 100 kilometres out of town, and the small town of Corfield with around 100 residents.
Mayor Gavin Baskett said the cost was in the tens of thousands of dollars and the build was co-funded by Telstra.
Cr Baskett said the Shire opted for the satellite cells to connect their small communities and bolster Lark Quarry, which attracts 20,000 people a year.
“We’re a remote area, driven by rural industry and tourism – all industries where mobile coverage can provide so much in terms of innovation, connectivity and safety,” he said.
Cr Baskett said the town would trial the satellite cells, which are run on mains power, before deciding on getting more, potentially solar powered versions for more remote work.
The cell is connected via the satellite the network in the same way that most existing cells are connected by cable, fibre, or point to point radio and works as long as there is clear line of site to the sky.
The satellite cell’s geographic coverage will vary depending on design and circumstance. The installations at Winton service a one kilometre radius.
Telstra is aiming to deliver 500 Satellite Small Cells in the next three years and is in discussions with a number of potential customers.
The satellite small cells may feature in the current round of the Federal Government’ Mobile Blackspot Program, which co-funds telecommunications in commercially-unviable regional and remote areas with private telcos.
Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie said yesterday she wants to extend the current round of 870 co-funded mobile towers to 1000 by targeting transport routes, rural and remote communities and tourism hotspots - which appears well suited to satellite small cells.
Coverage is provided via Telstra’s 4GX 700 MHz band. Voice calls will require compatible 4GX devices.
Telstra will make the satellite small cells available only where there is no existing Telstra mobile coverage .
The satellite small cell must be on a standalone platform or attached to an existing building on the customer’s land, provided by the customer at no cost to Telstra.