Optus vs Telstra in the Outback?

Submitted: Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 09:39
ThreadID: 139076 Views:6747 Replies:10 FollowUps:18
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I have just noted another example of the issue of incompatible mobile coverage in the Outback in this case on Cape York. The ABC news item is worth reading. The question remains as to how this situation can be addressed apart from having a dual sim phone and the cost of two associated plans.
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Reply By: Member - Racey - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 10:13

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 10:13
Same along the Oodnadatta track. Most annoying.
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Follow Up By: TrevorDavid - Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019 at 19:29

Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019 at 19:29

Two weeks ago, Telstra 4G small cell available atMarree, William Creek & Oodnadatta.




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Follow Up By: Candace S. - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 07:58

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 07:58

I passed through Oodnadatta twice recently. My phone showed no service both times.

I have a Telstra SIM and plan. So I inquired in the roadhouse if the service was down at the moment. They said no, it simply doesn't work with some phones.

I later contacted Telstra customer service to get an explanation. I got a vague non-answer which didn't explain why my particular phone--or other people's phones--don't get service there.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 09:07

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 09:07
Telstra's small cell service uses Voice Over LTE technology - VoLTE. LTE is a technology used to provide fast mobile data. VoLTE is an enhancement that enables voice on that technology. Older handsets may not have the required VoLTE hardware. Other handsets with the required hardware may have firmware that does not support VoLTE.

The firmware in every smartphone handset is country and, if bought from a telco, may also be telco specific. Assuming the handset has the required hardware, if the firmware doesn't support VoLTE then the phone won't be able to make and take voice calls over LTE, though data may still work.

That is my situation. I'm with Telstra and have a handset I bought on line. The hardware supports VoLTE but when I try to turn it on via the menu system I get a message that VoLTE is not supported by the current software. I can't make or take voice calls in Telstra small cell areas, though I have data and can use the internet, etc. A little investigation revealed that my phone has Vietnamese firmware which does not support VoLTE.

A work-around would be to use something like Facebook Messenger or Skype or Apple Facetime etc, which use data (internet), not the voice network.

A more permanent fix is to update the firmware to a version known to support VoLTE but with a handset bought outside normal channels like mine you're unlikely to get help from your telco or phone manufacturer. You can DIY but it is a tricky business and if it goes wrong your phone may irrevocably be turned into a brick.

Candace, if you brought your handset with you from OS and put a Telstra SIM in it for your Aussie travels, then the above is the likely explanation for Telstra small cells not working for you.


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Follow Up By: Zippo - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 10:02

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 10:02
In addition to what Frank said:

Apart from the potential for firmware not supporting Voice over "Long Term Evolution" the other possibility is that these Telstra small cells are 4G only. That means that a 3G-only phone will see "no service" rather than "SOS only".
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Follow Up By: Pepper - Saturday, Sep 21, 2019 at 20:59

Saturday, Sep 21, 2019 at 20:59
When i recently travelled through small cell telstra areas i recieved a text from telstra advising i was in a small cell area and a list of phone models that work in these areas.

Unfortunately my samsung galaxy s5 is NOT on the list..i am with boost.
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Reply By: Member - Tony H (touring oz) - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 11:30

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 11:30
An absolutely crazy situation, so much for safety in the bush/off the beaten track.
The public servant that come up with this idea obviously has never been to or travelled in these areas.
Maybe it's Telstra's way of selling satellite phones?
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Follow Up By: equinox - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 11:56

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 11:56
You can still make emergency calls on another provider.

Updating your facebook status with a few pictures is not a safety matter

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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 13:10

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 13:10
Correct Equinox,

AND if you have a 4G phone with 4G you can make or receive standard telephone calls through any wifi hotspot if you turn that option on in the phone.

But the reality is that if you really do have legitimate safety concerns in remote locations then a Phone may not be much use. Regardless of the provider(s).

Get a PLB or Sat phone.

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Reply By: Zippo - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 12:22

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 12:22
It's inevitable that the BSP contracts will go to the least-cost supplier. That's the way that govco monies are distibuted.

Telstra jumped on the bandwagon early on (with bucketloads of fedco $$) to provide cellphone coverage at aboriginal communities, with expensive backbone infrastructure. Often any non-aboriginal settlements nearby missed out on that coverage. Similarly they were heavily subsidised on the north-west coastal route in WA. You now get (almost) continuous coverage from the NT border down to the big smoke - thank WA's Royalties-for-Regions funding for that lot.

Meanwhile, Telstra submit bids against Blackspot Program lists using that same terrestrial backbone approach. Optus on the other hand offer based on satellite backhaul - cheese and chalk cost-wise.

Against that backdrop govco can either further entrench the Telstra advantage (previously subsidised under social programs) and do a smaller number of sites from the available funding, or make commercial decisions. There are links to the BSP rollout available and you will see that both Telstra and Optus are in the mix.

Do not also forget that Telstra are among the most expensive carriers for their customers. Their resellers (with the exception of Boost) are denied access to most of their regional coverage due to a cynical marketing decision they made many years back, so it was largely Telstra-or-nothing for a long period out there.

Telstra are free to install cellphone sites in the same towns as Optus are doing. With a couple of exceptions they are choosing not to spend THEIR MONEY to compete. Would you - as a benevolent dictator - simply say "Telstra have the most coverage, let's get them to fill in the blanks"? If so, I wouldn't want to live in YOUR Australia.
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Reply By: Member - David M (SA) - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 12:53

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 12:53
Lack of mobile coverage is why I never venture into the Great Outback. Don't know how long I would survive without Facebook or Twitter.
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Reply By: Dusta - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 13:25

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 13:25
wonder what a cel-fi and external antenna would be like out there. I can travel through alot of outback WA and still have coverage with telstra. Having said that though really you should be carrying a sat phone for emergency FB updates in the outback
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Reply By: ExplorOz Team - Michelle - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 14:37

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 14:37
yep we experienced that just heading to Karijini via Mt Augustus. So the trick is to have 2 phones, one with Telstra, one with Optus or if you have a dual sim phone do that. I have a dual sim phone and have a Telstra plan for the main number and bought a Penny Tel SIM for the other but neither worked at Mt Augustus - its was the kids on the Optus that made me realise that I should use an Optus SIM when i'm away instead of the PennyTel. Easy fixed but crazy...
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Follow Up By: Member - Andrew & Jen - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 11:37

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 11:37
Indeed. Our main provider is Optus. We also have a cheap $49 non smart phone with Telstra with a 12 month prepaid sim - can't recall the cost, something like $50.
Having said that, it is surprising the number of country towns that have no Telstra service but a good Optus signal
Cheers Andrew
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Reply By: Notso - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 16:31

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 16:31
Ah, I dunno, the more people get, the more they want. I traveled Aus back in 2000 with a mobile phone tethered to the laptop. It cost me about $140 per month if I recall correctly. I did the same trip in 2014 and the cost was $60 per month for an infinitely better service.

If you can't travel without permanent contact with what you've got. Get a system that you can get permanent contact.

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Follow Up By: Zippo - Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 18:46

Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 at 18:46
So true.

When we go out there on our annual migration, we take FOUR cellphones.

Hers and mine are on Belong - a Telstra-owned MVNO with access to only the Telstra WHOLESALE network (*). That's what we use around the big smoke where it's fine, but ...

I have another number just parked. Right now it's with Amaysim, $15/year with 100 minutes included. That covers the Optus network on those trips.

Like most people, we have a drawer with spare cellphones. One of those gets a temporary pre-paid SIM on a Telstra Retail deal, which averages about $1/day for unlimited calls and bulk data (so we can hot-spot ...).

So we have Telstra Wholesale and Optus covered, plus Telstra Retail short-term.

And to fill in the gaps (which are many and large), an Iridium on the $10/mo plan for emergencies.

(*) Before we travel, I identify all overnights and whether there is Telstra Retail, Telstra Wholesale ("TW"), and/or Optus available - and take a printed list with us. TW embraces ALL their resellers except Boost. Check the coverage maps for say Belong/Aldi etc vs Telstra Retail and you'll see stark regional differences.

The decision Telstra took waaaay back was that TW service would be available in towns where Optus existed (so Telstra's resellers could give Optus local competition). If Optus wasn't in a town, you needed Telstra Retail for coverage there. That decision seems to have been etched in stone. And Telstra's reputation for price gouging for that privelege was well earned. What they haven't done though is keep track of Optus' expansion in regional areas, so while there generally will be Telstra Retail coverage in towns with an Optus presence they haven't altered their TW footprint.

As an aside, ALL Optus resellers get access to the FULL Optus network. Shame on Telstra for the games they play.

NO, I am NOT an Optus shareholder.
YES, I AM a Telstra shareholder.

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Follow Up By: Member - shane r1 - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 06:58

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 06:58
I don’t know all the government regulation of the telco services.
But the not sharing is designed to ensure the companies keep putting in services , people may or may not agree if this works or not .
The USA was the same in 2017 , we had one server reputed to have probably the widest coverage generally, but some spots the other carriers covered.
So we’re not alone in Australia.
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Reply By: AlbyNSW - Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019 at 07:49

Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019 at 07:49
A first world problem me thinks.
I like my outback experience without any phone coverage, phone coverage is the thin end of the wedge for the erosion of the outback as we knew it.
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Follow Up By: Member - shane r1 - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 06:51

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 06:51
Totally agree
We love the not knowing what may be going on back in civilisation is so peaceful!!
Although we carry a sat phone just in case.
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Reply By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 13:10

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 13:10
The whole situation is totally rediculous.

To have our country served by multiple incompatible comunication carriers in the name of "Fair Competition" is no more than political and commercial stupidity.
It is comparable to having cars drive left-hand on some roads and right-hand on others with both ways here and there.

It is what comes about from having our government raise capital by selling off utilities. All essential utilities should always remain under the control of the government. Think of what chaos could prevail in the event of a National
Emergency such as war!

At my suburban residence, the cellular transmission tower is 500m away, line of sight. A few trees between is all. But it is necessary to sit on the 'Telstra' chair on the verandah to achieve connection to Telstra. Visitors with Optus have no such trouble. However, Telstra suits better for our travels. Am I required to maintain two phones simply for daily living?

So OK, allow multiple service providers but at least have a single connection frequency. Much as is done with the electricity supply.


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Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 14:29

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 14:29
Allan, it's not much different to the shambles created by having 2 different operating systems for personal computers - and further back than that - 4 different rail gauges within Australia!

As Mark Twain noted, when faced with being hauled out bed in the wee small hours, to change trains - ''Think of the paralysis of intellect, that gave that idea birth!''

There's plenty of other examples of total incompatibility that costs us all dearly - operating voltages, electrical plugs, weights and measures, fasteners and threads, fuels and power systems, lack of common standards and basic parts between manufacturers.

It's all designed to secure a "niche" or "captive" market for the businesses involved.

One of the worst examples I have had to contend with in my working life, is the insistence of Caterpillar Inc., that they have their own manufacturing standards, and do not necessarily utilise SAE standards.

As a result, if you have a Caterpillar bearing, it is most often, not a standard bearing.
It will have minor deviations from SAE standard design bearing specifications, that means you have to go to Cat, and Cat only, to acquire that bearing.

The same goes for their drive shafts. We have SAE standards for driveshafts, whereby a nominated size shaft has, say, 14 splines - but the equivalent Cat driveshaft will have 13 splines.
Pure bastardry, and a system that is designed to benefit Caterpillar, and no-one else.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 16:25

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 16:25
As you say Ron......... Bastardry!!!!


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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 16:25

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 16:25
There's more that 2 different operating systems. Most of the internet runs on Linux.

What about VHS and Beta video tapes? That was a good one. :-)
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 18:41

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 18:41
Yes, and being the better technology, I chose Beta.... Duhh.


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Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 19:12

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 19:12
Allan, I suppose you bought an 8-track cartridge stereo when they came out, too? LOL

I guess we should be thankful we didn't end up with 5 or 6 different types of mobiles phones that were all incompatible.
At least someone had the sense to keep SIMS reasonably interchangeable, but I don't know how long that will last.

Michael - I thought 95% of ATM's still operated on Windows XP?
I know of no equipment that uses MacOS, apart from Apple products.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Member - David M (SA) - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 22:26

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 22:26
And what about all the different size tyres.! At least there's only one colour. (color)
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Follow Up By: Zippo - Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 22:35

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019 at 22:35
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news David, but they are available in a whole range of gaudy colours. Yeah, I know they aren't "tyres", but just google "colored tires".
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Reply By: Rangiephil - Friday, Sep 20, 2019 at 09:15

Friday, Sep 20, 2019 at 09:15
So the alternative is no choice.
That is what brought the world Trabants.
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