Network builder NBN Co, telco Concerotel and wireless network provider Zetifi are the first grant recipients to conduct tests as part of the federal government’s Alternative Voice Services Trials (AVST) program.
Announced in March 2019, the program received $2 million in funding for trialling new ways of providing voice calls in remote and rural areas as part of the government’s $220 million Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity package.
The consultation period on the design of the trials took place in late 2019, with the government then calling on telecommunications carriage service providers to get involved in the program last year in August 2020.
Between the three companies in the first round of grant recipients, a maximum of 510 trials are expected to take place, with a combined value of over $1.4 million.
The lion’s share of the trials is to be conducted by NBN Co, receiving $930,000 for up to 260 trial voice services to take place throughout Australia via its wireless and satellite networks.
Additionally, the network builder will also trial a low band fixed wireless solution.
The other recipients — which Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher referred to as “two small, innovative companies” — are set to deliver upwards of an additional 250 trials between the pair of them.
“The trials are a great opportunity for new players to demonstrate new ways to provide better voice services, more in line with changing consumer needs particularly for greater mobility,” he said.
Out of the two small companies, Concerotel has received $154,000 to conduct up to 200 trial voice services in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Islands areas to improve VOIP services to mobile phones reliant on satellite links.
That leaves the other 50 trial voice services for Zetifi in a grant valued at $316,250, with its focus on attempting to improve the poor mobile coverage of farms in rural and remote areas of NSW and northern Victoria with Wi-Fi calling services.
Some of the trials are expected to use antennas and back up batteries, but those included in the trial will still be able to use their existing voice services, such as those available via copper and high capacity radio concentrator services.
More grant recipients are expected to be announced in the future, with the government currently in the process of finalising agreements with other shortlisted applicants.