The national broadband network should be rejigged to aid the expansion of mobile networks, particularly in regional areas where mobile broadband provision represents "the single best way" to improve economic development, a Vodafone-commissioned report claims.
The report, by public policy thinktank the McKell Institute, attempts to plug Vodafone's voice into the public debate on future directions for the NBN. The debate restarted in the wake of a change of government and several reviews of the project.
The report argued since the NBN project commenced, "mobile broadband, smartphones and tablets have recreated the broadband landscape".
"Changes in the environment are sufficiently large that policy makers and NBN Co should consider whether strategic decisions made five years ago need any modification," the report stated. (pdf)
The report did not argue mobile services could act as a substitute for fixed-line networks. It said access to the NBN fixed-line infrastructure was necessary to support mobile service expansion, but didn't shy from its view of mobile's potential.
"It's a plausible working hypothesis that the single best way to improve the economic development of regional areas, and possibly Australian productivity overall, would be to provide affordable mobile broadband," the report stated.
"Currently, the NBN lacks a strategy for improving mobile services but this can be easily rectified."
The report argued reworking the NBN with mobile in mind could be achieved "with no change of scope for the NBN project".
In metropolitan areas, it said the NBN could also be used to connect and haul traffic from mobile networks made up of 'micro-cells" — tiny base stations that are presently being touted by networking vendors and trialled by various telcos.
Vodafone CEO Bill Morrow backed the findings.
"The NBN was conceived before we knew just how essential mobile broadband would become and that is growing year on year," he said.
"This report doesn't call for a radical overhaul of the NBN; rather just a shift in thinking. The NBN will open the door to so many new opportunities with the right focus."