The Victorian Government is set to fix mobile black spots along Victoria’s five busiest regional rail corridors by partnering with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone in an $18 million project.
The Regional Rail Connectivity Project looks to significantly improve mobile coverage and connectivity for commuters along the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon and Seymour rail lines - which see more than 15 million passenger trips annually.
The partnership between Australia’s three major mobile carriers means that customers across all three networks can expect to see improved mobile coverage rather than just one carrier’s customer base.
Victoria will be the first state in Australia to implement “in-train technology” used to boost the signal from mobile towers outside the rail carriage to devices used inside.
Work has already begun to pilot the installation of mobile reception repeaters in VLocity trains, designed to boost in-train coverage from less than 50 per cent to almost full network coverage. If successful, the repeaters will be rolled out on the entire VLocity fleet in 2018.
“This Australian-first project is a massive win for commuters on our five busiest regional rail corridors – no matter which network they use, they will see improvements,” said Minister for small business, innovation and trade, Philip Dalidakis.
“Regular commuters spend up to 20 hours per week on regional trains and we need to keep them connected so they can keep in touch with their loved ones and use their travel time productively,” he added.
Currently, “in-train technology” is used in more than 30 rail networks across Europe including Germany, Italy and Switzerland to boost the mobile signal from towers inside train carriages.
The government said passengers will begin to experience improved mobile coverage from the end of this year, with the construction of up to 35 new mobile towers commencing after the pilot process and set to be completed in 2018.
The project is expected to boost productivity for regional business commuters, delivering an estimated $20 million per annum to the Victorian economy.
Minister for Transport, Jacinta Allan, said the project is a step forward for the Victorian people.
“This is another step in the better regional train system we’re building – connecting passengers across Victoria to work, education and each other,” she said.
The Federal Government has also been heavily investing across wider Australia as part of its Mobile Black Spot Programme.
The government’s programme began as a 2013 election commitment to extend mobile phone coverage and industry competition in remote, regional, and outer metropolitan areas. The funding for the selected base stations in the first round of the initiative came to $385 million.
Round 1 of the program will deliver almost 500 new or upgraded mobile base station around Australia – 429 Telstra and 70 Vodafone base stations. The first base stations under round 1 of the program began rolling out in 2015 and will continue for three years.
The rollout sequence will be determined by Telstra and Vodafone based on various factors such as obtaining local government planning approvals.
Optus and Telstra expanded their mobile coverage following the second $60 million round in December last year. The funding for Optus went towards the build of 114 new mobile sites across the country.
Optus said it will build 23 sites in Western Australia, 13 sites in the Northern Territory, 18 sites in New South Wales, 27 sites in Queensland, two sites in Tasmania, 15 sites in South Australia, and 16 sites in Victoria.
Telstra’s chief operations officer, Brendon Riley, said Telstra would build 148 mobile base stations under the second round, in addition to the 429 locations selected in the first round of the programme.
This amounts to more than $486 million worth of co-investment between Telstra and the government in Australia.