Optus And Vodafone To Share 3G And 4G Sites: What It Means For Consumers

Optus And Vodafone To Share 3G And 4G Sites: What It Means For Consumers

Optus and Vodafone have signed an agreement to share more of their 3G and 4G infrastructure, allowing them to expand coverage more quickly and for Vodafone customers in regional areas to eventually roam onto Optus’ network where Vodafone coverage is weaker or non-existent. What will that mean for customers of both networks? Will it threaten performance and reception? What happens if you access those networks via another provider? We’ve got all the answers.

The joint venture agreement isn’t finalised yet, and still requires approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). But assuming it goes ahead, here’s what it will mean.

What are the two networks actually sharing? Access to existing mobile towers and sites, particularly in capital cities( Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Geelong, Central Coast, Gold Coast and Canberra), and the construction work on some new sites. Using existing sites speeds up rollout; Optus estimates that this will take 12-18 months off its plans to roll out 4G. Given that Telstra already has broad 4G coverage, both Optus and Vodafone will welcome any speed improvements.

The approach also cuts down on complaints from local residents over multiple tower rollouts: as a spokesperson told us, “Optus and VHA will be able to co-locate the majority of their new infrastructure on existing sites minimising the impact of a large infrastructure rollout on local communities.” (Conversely, it might make an easier single target for activists.)

I’m an Optus customer. Will I get poorer reception because all those Vodafone-using sops are gagging to get decent bandwidth? No. The sites are shared, but the infrastructure remains independent. You’ll get your connection from the provider you signed up with.

Will this help in regional areas? If you’re a Vodafone customer in a weaker reception area, you’ll be roamed onto Optus, which potentially will mean better reception. But that won’t happen until April 2013, and will be fixed for a five-year period.

Will I have to pay more? Right now, no. The changes are at the network level, and won’t alter individual customer agreements at this stage. (No word yet on the finer Vodafone’s roaming plans for next year, though.)

Will I benefit from this if I’m using a service from a mobile virtual network operator which uses Optus or Vodafone? These changes are being made at the network level, so they will offer the same improvements for other providers (such as Amaysim, Boost, iiNet and Virgin on Optus, or Crazy John’s and Red Bull on Vodafone) using those networks.

Will this change global roaming arrangements? No. It’s an Australia-only deal. When you head overseas, you’ll still need to make the right arrangement with your provider. (Optus has good deals for Asia via Bridge DataRoam; Vodafone has broad but variable coverage in Europe.

Can Vodafone customers latch onto Optus’ new 4G network? Not at this stage. Optus’ Central Coast trial is invitation-only, and this agreement won’t change things. Eventually (in theory), regional roaming onto 4G might be possible, but since Optus’ initial 4G rollout is aimed at capital cities, that’s not going to happen for a while.

While it would be easy to panic and see this as a potential bottleneck, it also means that Optus and Vodafone will be able to speed up their network building and improvement activities. Given that mobile networks inevitably deteriorate as they become more popular, that’s a welcome development.

This isn’t the first time mobile networks in Australia have shared infrastructure. Prior to its merger with Vodafone, the now all-but-defunct 3 used Telstra in areas where its own 3G network didn’t operate. However, 3 imposed extra charges on customers for the privilege, something that apparently won’t happen here.

Picture by Cogdog/Getty Images


  • So if you get crappy reception from Optus or Vodaphone now that is exactly what you will have as a result of this deal. Think I will stick with my “two bar” Telstra service. I know I shouldn’t complain as I am 23km from the CBD and its only 2012, not 2020.

  • Well.. Optus has heaps better rural coverage than voda…. so I’m glad my voda friends will get a bit better coverage as well.. Optus is really spending on infrastructure here in western rural SA.. not quite on a par generally with telstra yet.. but if you are prepared to used something like Amaysim– you can save yourself a lot.. I’m already used Optus for a ‘fixed’ 3g data service

  • “However, 3 imposed extra charges on customers for the privilege” this was related to data charges only, not phone calls. The statement also implies that T$ had nothing to do with the extra cost.
    FYI Vodafone has had similar roaming details with Telstra.
    the benefits of this arrangement is sharing tower locations which will reduce building and ownership costs for both companies. if costs are reduced, generally the savings could be passed on.

  • I was a very happy customer personal and business with 3 for about 8 years, voda took over and they went to sh!t started seeking legal action to getmy 3 contract cancelled, after they tried to offer voda to me as a replacement … Hahaha after many arguments I finally got out of the contract and had previously had my shop landline with Optus and had that many problems it wasn’t funny, my home phone has always been on Telstra so we bundled out mobiles Internet foxtel and home phone with Telstra in in the last 12 months since I have been on Telstra I have not once lost complete reception and I travel all over Australia CBd and outback areas….. But upset with 3 as I had been with them since the beginning or even before coz I had a mobile with orange which went to 3….. Shameful !!!!!!!

  • I’ve been on Vodafone for 10 years now and never had a problem. I’ve only lived in regional Sydney and the metro Adelaide areas. I lost coverage twice in 2 years, for a 3 day stint in Kangaroo Island out in the bush (worked back near hotels/main town), and on the great ocean road for a few hours on the way to Melbourne.
    I can’t stand the complete rip off that is Telstra- they overcharge and monopolise everything, and once Vodafone gets the infrastructure to properly compete, they will destroy Telstra- like they’ve destroyed every other carrier around the world.
    Unfortunately with only 25 million people in a country the size of the USA, it’s a much slower and more expensive process to roll out coverage for remote areas that they can’t recoup their investment money on. Meanwhile the government monopoly Telstra gets its way on everything and charges ludicrous amounts for anything modern. Take their broadband network plans for example. What a crock.
    I understand peoples frustrations with Vodafone and dropping out in country areas but Telstra needs a tougher competitor than Optus- it’s garbage.

  • Crown castle purchased most of the optus and vodafone towers some 9 years ago on a investment reason(return on investments by leasing the tower space back to the carriers) All towers can be shared by each carrier in other words telstra, optus and vodafone can have their antennas on the tower, i am unsure why there is comments on the net lately that they are now sharing towers, this has been going on for years. Further more that idiot on channel nine tech expert charlie brown said some 6 months ago that they are now starting to share access to towers so customers can more base stations in their area

  • i forgot to mention that i use to work for crown castle who purchased 750 of these telecommunication for a average price of $250,000 each, also i was the estimator for telstra for the construction of new mobile phone base stations in NSW

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