Melbourne Rail commuters travelling the City Loop will soon suffer fewer dropped calls when mobile coverage is switched on in the tunnel later this year.
Optus, Telstra and Vodafone Hutchison Australia have announced a partnership with the Victorian Government and VicTrack to turn on 3G and 4G mobile coverage at the Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament underground stations and through the tunnels between them.
The Victorian Government has funded the infrastructure using part of the $152 million funding for the Digital Train Radio System project.
“No longer will a passenger on a mobile phone need to say ‘I’m just about to cut out, I’m going through the Loop,’” Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said in a statement.
Napthine said the Coalition Government’s multi-million dollar investment from VicTrack had provided the infrastructure for the added mobile coverage. Optus is the lead carrier implementing network infrastructure in the tunnels, but coverage will be available to all three telcos and each will connect to the new radios using their own backhaul.
The rollout will be done in two phases, with 3G services expected to be done in November and the network tuned up to provide 4G services by the end of Q1 2015, said Telstra general manager of network engineering, Max Jennings.
The first phase will see the rollout of about 12 radio heads; more will be installed in the second phase to add capacity to support more users and frequency bands, Jennings told Computerworld Australia.
While Jennings indicated that the first phase should provide a sufficient amount of capacity, he said the phase-two upgrades are meant to cater for continuing growth in data usage.
The initiative follows the three telcos turning on coverage for Sydney CityRail in 2012.
Jennings said the challenges of adding coverage to Melbourne’s railways is similar to Sydney.
“It’s a tough environment to build things in. You get very little access time per day to build. You’re not going to stop the trains to build a mobile phone network, so you have to wait until the trains stop.”
In addition, the telcos must compete for that off-hours time with other maintenance services in the tunnels.
The Victorian Government is spending a large amount of money on improving wireless Internet access in the state. In the state’s budget released in April, the state government set aside $7.8 million in 2014-15 on a $40 million rollout of free Wi-Fi for its V/Line trains and a program to eliminate mobile black spots in regional areas of the state.