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Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates from the Australian Government

Alternative Voice Services Trials Program

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.

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 and supported by Australian Government and industry funding that offers one basic product: a plain old telephone service.

The $2 million Alternative Voice Services trials program (or AVST) aims 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

Grantees are delivering voice services across across rural and remote areas of Australia. Grants were awarded to:

Concerotel NBN Co Optus
Pivotel Telstra Zetifi

Applications for the Trials have now closed and the Trials are well underway.

The trial services typically involve new applications of technologies like wireless and satellite. They often provide 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 is poor or absent.

Most of the trials include equipment like external antennas and back-up batteries to increase service reliability. Further details of the grantees’ solutions are provided below. Further details about each of the trial services are below.

Progress Reports

The Department has prepared a mid-term report on the AVST covering the period from 1 July to 31 December 2021. The report summarises key results from monthly reports by grantees and independent surveys of triallists. Further reports will be published here in 2022.

The Department will evaluate the AVST at the end of the program.

Grantees’ solutions

  • Concerotel is delivering trial services on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island using a voice application on customers' mobile phones optimised to work with satellite backhaul. Services are delivered to triallists on the islands by Indian Ocean Territories Telecom and Norfolk Island Data Services.
  • NBN Co is delivering trial services nationwide. It is trialling voice services over data on its fixed wireless and satellite networks, as well as services using a new low band fixed wireless solution. Services are delivered to triallists by Australian Private Networks, Field Solutions Group, MultiWave and Telstra.
  • Optus is delivering trial services at regional locations in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. It is trialling fixed and mobile voice calls over data and optional broadband data access, with backhaul provided using its satellite network.
  • Pivotel is delivering trial services at locations in regional and remote areas of Australia. Trial participants are able to use the full functionality of mobile handsets to make and receive voice calls over data when at home or out and about.
  • Telstra is delivering trial services across Australia. The majority are fixed voice services over data delivered using its 4G network, while Telstra is also delivering voice services over it satellite.
  • Zetifi is delivering trial voice services over data to farms in rural areas of New South Wales and Victoria that currently have poor mobile coverage.

Program background

The AVST program was announced as part of the 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.

If you have queries or comments, please email us at: USG@commuications.gov.au.