Optus will make a major attempt to peg back Telstra’s dominance of mobile coverage in rural and regional Australia by expanding its 3G mobile network coverage to 98% of the population. The SingTel-owned telco has been the slowest of Australia’s four mobile carriers to roll out 3G, but last year sought to rectify this by building a W-CDMA network to 96% of the population, replicating the footprint of its GSM platform. But Optus has now revealed it has increased its network coverage target from 96% to 98%, with the new network to be operational by December 2009. ‘With this significant expansion we will be the only mobile carrier capable of challenging the incumbent’s (Telstra’s) network reach,’ Optus chief executive Paul O’Sullivan said in a statement. Optus’s initial 3G expansion to 96% was estimated to cost about USD500 million, although its decision to go to 98% will add another USD315 million to the project, to fund the construction of about 750 additional base stations. Most of the network will operate on the 900MHz frequency band. Telstra’s NextG network, which operates on the 850MHz frequency, currently reaches about 99% of the population.