ACMA offers insight into better mobile phone connection for regional Australia

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Mobile phone users struggling to get reception could soon have better access to telecommunication services, with key industry regulators advising support is on its way for regional Australia.

The federal government is investigating if co‑investment in regional mobile carrier infrastructure would provide better services across the country.

It comes as widespread outages left many regional communities without service during recent flooding events.

Speaking to a senate committee on Wednesday, general manager of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) communications infrastructure division, Linda Caruso, said providing greater access stems down to having a number of options available to providers.

ACMAs role is to plan and manage the airwaves and make space for new services available in Australia, while also managing the licencing and regulation of providers.

Ms Caruso said spectrum management is a ‘finite’ resource and encouraged the government to come up with a plan to manage it into the future.

The federal government is assessing whether there should be co‑investment in regional mobile carrier infrastructure. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew HenshawThe federal government is assessing whether there should be co‑investment in regional mobile carrier infrastructure. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

Ms Caruso said ACMA is working on creating a “portfolio” of radio frequencies, known as spectrum management, to be made available to all providers in a bid to ensure enough connectivity is available for customers.

“Our job is to make spectrum available for a range of uses and get it into the hands of those who will use it,” she said.

“From the spectrum management (perspective) we’re trying to make that spectrum portfolio available so people can choose the best spectrum available for what they’re trying to achieve.”

Ms Caruso explained that having low, mid and high bandwidth options available would assist providers to offer customers the right service needed for their location.

“It’s a challenge to pack more people into the spectrum space, that’s what we’re trying to manage about the regulatory arrangements in spectrum allocation,” she said.

“What we’re trying to do is a portfolio of spectrum available to support those problems.”

ACMAs executive manager of spectrum planning and engineering, Christopher Hose, said on Wednesday these “problems” could be caused by a number of factors, including the environment and technology available.

While connectivity tends to be fairly reliable in major cities, many regional Australians continue to struggle to get reception. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De MarchiWhile connectivity tends to be fairly reliable in major cities, many regional Australians continue to struggle to get reception. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

“There is some inevitabilities, in that we need to build things out of metal and build things out of bricks, there aren’t always materials that are perfect for telephony,” Mr Hose said.

He referred to reports that wind turbines and Colorbond materials on houses had potentially impacted on connectivity.

Ms Caruso said while these types of issues were a concern, technology was constantly evolving and she was hopeful solutions would be soon made available.

“It’s kind of looking back in the past but (with) indoor building coverage there’s been many evolutions that have overcome many of those telecommunication problems,” she said

“There are a range of different interests that need to be considered … it takes a little bit of time and they’re all important.”

The House Communications and the Arts Committee chair Brian Mitchell says evidence will be heard from experts on co‑investment in regional mobile carrier infrastructure. Picture: Chris KiddThe House Communications and the Arts Committee chair Brian Mitchell says evidence will be heard from experts on co‑investment in regional mobile carrier infrastructure. Picture: Chris Kidd

Committee Chair, Brian Mitchell, said it was important the government assess whether co-investment was an option to assist regional Australians get better mobile connectivity.

“Co-investment is a tool which would allow multiple telecommunications providers in regional areas to invest in and share ‘multi-carrier’ mobile towers and related infrastructure, to improve services,” he said.

“The majority of mobile infrastructure is not co-located, especially in regional areas.

“ The rates of co-location for Australia’s major mobile providers dramatically decline as you move from urban to regional and remote areas, to as low as 4.8 per cent in very remote areas.

“Connectivity and infrastructure are critical drivers of regional development.

“It is particularly important that we hear directly from our rural, regional and remote communities to hear their views on connecting and staying connected to telecommunications infrastructure.”

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