The ability to make telephone calls is so embedded in our everyday lives that it is largely taken for granted. That ability is, of course, backed up by a huge investment in infrastructure and a large, highly-skilled workforce.
In urban areas, there is usually the choice of fixed and mobile networks to make calls. In rural and remote areas, callers are often dependent on a single network operated by Telstra. This network is supported by Australian Government and industry funding. It offers one basic product: a plain old telephone service.
The $2 million Alternative Voice Services Trials program (AVST) took place in 2021–22 to:
- identify new ways to deliver voice services, including by new providers
- assess their effectiveness
- raise awareness of alternative solutions to provide better services and functionality.
Grant recipients delivered voice services across rural and remote areas of Australia. Grants were awarded to:
The AVST ended on 30 June 2022.
The Department has released three reports on results:
- a mid-term report covering the period from 1 July to 31 December 2021,
- a second report covering the period to 31 March 2022,
- a third report covering the period to 30 June 2022.
The reports summarise key results from monthly reports by grantees and independent surveys of triallists.
The results are now being further assessed.
The trial services typically involved new applications of technologies like wireless and satellite. They often provided new functionality, such as the ability to make and receive calls using the customer's mobile handset in the home even if mobile network coverage was poor or absent.
Most of the trials included equipment to increase service reliability. Equipment included external antennas and back-up batteries.
Further details of the grantees' solutions are below:
- Concerotel delivered trial services on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island. Services used a voice application on customers' mobile phones. The service was optimised to work with satellite backhaul. Services were delivered by Indian Ocean Territories Telecom and Norfolk Island Data Services.
- NBN Co delivered trial services nationwide. NBN Co trialled voice services over data on its fixed wireless and satellite networks. They also trialled services using a new low band fixed wireless solution. Services were delivered by Australian Private Networks, Field Solutions Group, MultiWave and Telstra.
- Optus delivered trial services at regional locations in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. It trialled fixed and mobile voice calls over data and optional broadband data access. Backhaul was provided using its satellite network.
- Pivotel delivered trial services at locations in regional and remote areas of Australia. Trial participants were able to use the full functionality of mobile handsets to make and receive voice calls over data. This was available at home or out and about.
- Telstra delivered trial services across Australia. The majority were fixed voice services over data delivered using its 4G network. Telstra also delivered voice services over satellite.
- Zetifi delivered trial voice services over data to farms in rural areas of New South Wales and Victoria with poor mobile coverage.
The AVST program was announced as part of the former Government's response to the 2018 report by the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee, and reflects particular concerns about networks serving rural and remote parts of Australia.
The program guidelines were issued on 4 August 2020. The guidelines and further details on funded projects, are available on the GrantConnect website.
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