Optus won't rule out co-funding Coalition backhaul

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Optus won't rule out co-funding Coalition backhaul

Reports quarterly growth in mobile subscribers.

Optus is willing to consider contributing part of the cost to create a competitive backhaul network under the Coalition's broadband policy announced this week.

The Coalition pledged to lease or construct an open access backhaul network at a cost of $2.75 billion, on the basis that the private sector chipped in at least $750 million of its own funds.

"In terms of our willingness to invest in the backhaul network, we consider every investment on its merits and have in the past committed to investing in significant backhaul projects including OPEL... and [the $250m] regional broadband blackspots program," a spokesman for the telco told iTnews.

Optus and Elders won the previous government's $958 million broadband project, known as OPEL, which included the construction of a competitive backhaul fibre network. The project was canned by Labor and replaced with what is now the National Broadband Network.

The company also bid for work in the $250 million blackspots scheme. That body of work was awarded to Nextgen Networks.

Backhaul construction was a central tenet of both the Government and Coalition's broadband plans going into election 2010.

The Optus spokesman said that competitive backhaul generally would "increase opportunities for investment" by telcos in last-mile technologies, "particularly... mobile".

But in and of itself, competitive backhaul did not appear to be enough to "stimulate" Optus to build out its fixed DSL or hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable networks into areas that - prior to competitive backhaul links - would have been deemed "uncommercial".

"Further investment in fixed line/DSL is still problematic due to regulatory uncertainty," the spokesman said.

"At this stage, we [also] have no plans to increase our HFC network."

Network investments

Optus recently spent some $25 million upgrading its HFC network in the Eastern capital cities. It completed the upgrades last week.

The telco has also spent considerable money on its mobile network, including the purchase of additional 3G spectrum licenses and on tests for technology to power the next generation of mobile services, Long Term Evolution (LTE).

Optus said in a statement late last week that it "turned on" seven new sites in NSW and Queensland using some of the "nearly 1000 new licences in the 2100 Mhz spectrum band" it bought in regional Australia.

Another 14 sites would be turned on "in the next seven days" in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, the telco said.

Pays dividends

Parent SingTel reported late yesterday its results for the quarter ended 30 June 2010.

The quarter saw Optus add some 190,000 mobile customers, "bringing its total mobile base to 8.7 million, an increase of 9 percent from a year ago".

Of that 190,000, 73 percent were postpaid subscribers.

The number of 3G customers increased to 4.17 million in the quarter. That included 994,000 wireless broadband subscribers.

SingTel attributed the growth to "continued network coverage expansion and the introduction of a compelling range of smartphones and innovative service offerings."

Optus and SingTel executives were expected to front media and analysts later today.

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