Mobiles have become an essential tool for work and keeping in touch with family and friends, and Australians are adopting 4G technology1 at world-record pace. Whether you live or work on a farm or in the city, everyone wants access to reliable and affordable mobile services.
As we all know, Australia is a large country with small populations in many areas. Due to the high cost of mobile network deployment, it’s simply not viable to build more than one mobile network in many rural and remote areas.
This is why mobile providers need to work together and share their network infrastructure. The sharing of network infrastructure reduces roll-out costs, and in many rural and remote areas this cost saving may be the difference between mobile providers being able to invest in new towers or not.
The most efficient and effective form of mobile network sharing is domestic mobile roaming.
What is domestic mobile roaming?
Much like international mobile roaming – where your Australian mobile works on another country’s network – domestic roaming means you can use your mobile wherever there is coverage, regardless of which provider you are with.
At the moment, the incumbent telecommunications provider won’t allow customers of other providers to access all of its mobile network in regional and remote areas.
However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has the power to regulate to ensure that mobile providers allow access to each other’s networks at a fair price and has recently launched an inquiry into whether or not to regulate domestic roaming.
If the ACCC decides to regulate domestic roaming in Australia, it would mean mobile providers, such as Vodafone, would be allowed to pay for access to Australia’s incumbent telecommunications provider’s networks, thereby immediately delivering substantial benefits to all Australians, especially choice to those in regional Australia for the first time.
Why do we need domestic mobile roaming?
Australian taxpayers are the biggest investors in regional telecommunications, so it makes sense these networks should be available to all consumers.
We’ve seen Uber disrupt the taxi industry and Airbnb do the same to the hotel economy. What makes these businesses successful is that they challenge the status quo by offering reliable, affordable choices to consumers.
The same could be true of the telecommunications sector.
Through domestic roaming the cost of building and upgrading mobile networks can be shared between two or more mobile providers. Consumers would receive the benefits of choice, as multiple mobile providers would compete on the basis of one mobile network in many rural and remote areas.
This single network approach is the basis upon which the NBN will deliver fixed broadband access to all Australian premises by 2020.
Countries with large land areas and/or low population densities including the USA, Canada, Spain, France, South Africa and New Zealand have already regulated domestic roaming. Data from these countries shows that domestic roaming has unlocked additional investment by mobile providers as they can share the costs of building and upgrading their mobile networks.
The ACCC’s inquiry into domestic roaming is an opportunity to investigate if regulated roaming can improve mobile competition and deliver a better outcome for consumers.
We encourage everyone to have their say as part of the ACCC’s inquiry.
Tim McPhail is the Head of Public Policy at Vodafone Australia
Vodafone 4G coverage is available in all major metro locations and selected regional areas across Australia. See Vodafone.com.au/coverage for availability. 4G is available with a 4G device and an active prepaid recharge or plan with Vodafone Alerts.