Mobile network investment continues but focus is on 5G in major cities

ACCC

Australia’s three mobile network operators, Telstra, Singtel Optus and TPG Telecom made significant investments in mobile infrastructure between January 2018 and January 2021, but the focus has moved to 5G deployment predominantly in the major cities.

The ACCC’s first Mobile Infrastructure Report, released today, looks at the mobile infrastructure and coverage maps of the three mobile network operators from 2018 to 2021. It accompanies a package of mobile infrastructure data that the ACCC has made available at data.gov.au. It follows a commitment by the ACCC to improve transparency in mobile infrastructure assets and coverage.

“This is a significant release of information that will provide transparency on Australia’s mobile networks that was previously not available,” ACCC Commissioner Anna Brakey said.

“The data can be used to assess where the mobile network operators have been deploying network infrastructure, which will provide more accountability over their investment claims in future years.”

The data shows that between January 2018 and January 2021, the mobile network operators continued to invest in network deployment, although in recent years their focus has shifted to the roll out of 5G technology. The report shows that 3G and 4G network deployment has generally slowed.

While the report and underlying data analysis can accurately depict changes in mobile site infrastructure, assessment of coverage maps provided by the mobile network operators has been challenging.

“We know many consumers in regional areas find it difficult to check what coverage is available in their area. Our own analysis shows that assessing geographic coverage with the network operators’ maps is difficult,” Ms Brakey said.

“The mobile network operators use predicted coverage as the basis for their coverage maps, and their input assumptions and metrics are different. They can also change input assumptions from time to time, which makes it difficult to accurately assess coverage changes.”

“Comparable and accurate coverage information is important for all consumers in making informed choices about their mobile providers, but it is particularly critical for the safety of regional and remote communities,” Ms Brakey said.

The ACCC will continue to explore ways to improve the comparability and accuracy of coverage maps provided by the mobile network operators.

Further information on the underlying Infrastructure Record Keeping Rules data for the mobile network operators is available at ACCC Mobile Infrastructure Report – data release.

Background

In 2018, following the decision to not declare a domestic mobile roaming service, the ACCC released the Measures to address regional mobile issues paper, and held a Regional Mobiles Issues Forum in Canberra. The paper and the forum explored a range of issues relating to mobile coverage that were identified during the mobile roaming inquiry and discussed regulatory and policy measures that may address them.

The forum found that there is a need for more accurate, comparable and reliable information on the extent of mobile coverage, and more accessible, accurate and complete information for regulators and policy makers, for the purposes of decision making.

The Mobile Infrastructure Report and data release was borne out of these earlier processes and the commitments made by the ACCC at the time to improve publicly available information on mobile infrastructure assets and coverage, using the Infrastructure Record Keeping Rules.

The ACCC expects the Mobile Infrastructure Report and associated data release to be an ongoing annual publication. The ACCC anticipates that future reports will be released around mid-year each year.

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