Mobile network operators constantly seeking to improve network performance:
Australian consumers clearly enjoy the benefits of their mobile phones, with more than 31 million mobile services now in operation in Australia (about 1.4 services per person!). Smartphones are now owned by almost 50% of the Australian population, making use of advanced mobile services and applications such as social media, video downloads, email and apps.
Mobile broadband is revolutionising Australia’s use of the mobile network. With mobile data traffic predicted to increase twice as fast as fixed IP traffic between 2011-2016, and currently doubling year on year. The demand is set to continue to grow for some time, with Cisco predicting a 13-fold increase in global mobile internet data traffic from 2012 to 2017. Hence, the mobile telecommunications industry faces unprecedented growth for demand in capacity from its networks.
The growing availability and use of mobile broadband has raised user expectation for network performance, which is the key consideration for consumers when selecting a mobile service provider. A recent KPMG survey found that the quality of an operator’s coverage (cited by 80 per cent) was the key issue followed by the level of customer service (78 per cent) while price (77 per cent) was ranked third.
However, mobile phones and mobile data devices such as tablets and laptops won’t work without base stations to connect them. Each base station covers a certain geographic area, called a “cell”, and can only handle a limited number of calls or data downloads (called “voice” and “data traffic” respectively). Mobile base stations are continually being deployed and upgraded to allow more people to use mobile phones from more locations and for coverage to be continuous when moving around.
The mobile industry is committed to increasing and upgrading mobile coverage across Australia, as evidenced by the substantial investment in infrastructure and network upgrades over the last few years as well as carriers’ current roll-out of next-generation mobile broadband services. Telstra, and the commercial joint venture between Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia that includes arrangements for domestic roaming as well as infrastructure sharing, are undertaking extensive and rapid infrastructure deployments to ensure Australia’s mobile networks can meet the needs and expectations of their customers, especially for data speeds and reliability.
The overall network performance is a compromise of many competing factors. The mobile network operators continuously monitor and upgrade their networks in line with demand, including carefully determining the location and number of mobile sites across the country and tailoring those services to ensure the best experience for their customers.
In addition to the demands placed on the network by the number of customers and the type of mobile service they are accessing, other factors affect number and position of base stations required. These include the size and layout of buildings within the area, and the local terrain in that region. Maintaining quality reliable services is a many faceted problem that requires significant investment by the Carriers.
Over an Australian summer where bushfires and floods impacted on many communities, the ability to maintain telecommunications in an emergency situation has never been more important. Australians are now relying on mobile telecommunications infrastructure as a key element in an overall emergency response infrastructure that has saved lives and property from imminent danger.
Imposing unnecessary restrictions on mobile carriers’ ability to roll-out base stations or upgrade existing sites to meet rapidly growing demand for advanced mobile services results in more costly networks and reduced upgrades, leading to lower quality services, blackspots and congestion. This may result in an inability to access mobile services in certain locations at certain times, including in emergencies. For this reason, communities nearby mobile base station installations need to consider very carefully the trade-off made for quality and reliability of essential communications services when raising objections to the deployment of infrastructure.
The Australian regulatory authority, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has recently announced a review of mobile network performance, to be conducted throughout 2013. The Australian industry, including both AMTA and the MCF, will participate in the review to assist the ACMA to understand the competing factors contributing to the performance of mobile telecommunications networks and their ability to meet the growing expectations of consumers, including barriers to deployment to achieve optimal network performance.
Pertinent to the review will be the understanding that each mobile phone base station represents a significant capital investment by the Carrier concerned. It is therefore essential for the Carrier to ensure that base stations are designed and located to provide the best possible service to the customer and so maximise the return on the Carriers’ investment.
While this is a very complex problem, modern mobile telecommunications networks represent the best possible compromise to achieve quality of service and meet the interests of all stakeholders.