In a move that will put it on a level playing field with rival Telstra and its NextG network, Optus Mobile has announced it will expand its 3G network beyond the present coverage of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to match that of its 2G network, which reaches 96% of the population. Rollout into the regional areas will commence in April and is expected to be completed by 2010, by which time the company expects to have installed between 2,000 and 2,500 new base stations. Total CAPEX will be between AUD500 million (USD386 million) and AUD800 million depending on whether it uses the same frequency as its existing 3G network (2100MHz) or 900MHz; the lower frequency provides greater range from each base station (therefore requiring fewer base stations) but there are at present few users elsewhere in the world and a dearth of handsets. Optus confirmed that rollout will commence in the larger regional cities such as Bendigo, Ballarat and Newcastle at 2100MHz; a decision on the usage of the 900MHz frequencies elsewhere will be made later this year.
However while Optus’ planned 3G coverage, at 96%, may be only two percentage points behind that of NextG, in terms of area served the new network will be much smaller than Next G. Once complete, Optus’ 3G network will cover only around 10% of the Australian landmass while NextG is reported to cover over 20%. Optus has a network sharing arrangement for some of its current 3G network with Vodafone; that relationship will continue but will not apply to the new network. ‘We do have a very strong relationship with Vodafone (and) we have demarcated the areas where we will continue to invest with Vodafone – in the metro areas of major capital cities – that will not change and we will continue to invest with Vodafone in those areas to increase capacity and depth of coverage,’ said an Optus spokesperson. He added that Optus would offer wholesale access to the new 3G network, as it does with its existing 3G network. Telstra has said it does not intend to offer wholesale access to its NextG infrastructure.