“It will be up to us to keep pressure"

This microPoP has a range of 10km depending on topography and tree cover (general line of sight). It can support more than 50 subscribers. Photo: supplied.

This microPoP has a range of 10km depending on topography and tree cover (general line of sight). It can support more than 50 subscribers. Photo: supplied.

The message at the Grabben Gullen community meeting last week was strong and clear: mobile and internet coverage has to be fixed.

Organised by the Grabben Gullen Community Progress Association (GGCPA), about 60 people attended the meeting held in the Grabben Gullen hall. 

Speakers included Telstra representative Robert Gruveski, Upper Lachlan Shire councillors, RFS representative George Sheppard, MP Pru Goward and Labor candidate Dr Ursula Stephens.

The crowd, who were made up of residents from Bannister, Grabben Gullen and Wayo, all had a similar story.

For some it was standing near the window. Others had to leave their house and drive away from their property for a connection.

Frustrations were also expressed by those with inconsistent connections, voicing problems for children studying and isolated farmers.

This narrative was supported by RFS representative George Sheppard, who spoke of intermittent connections becoming “a problem”.

“The reception was positive, the community appreciated being given an opportunity to meet with members from the political sector,” GGCPA president Scott Montgomery said. 

“Telstra confirmed on the night that they would be checking the signal equipment, with concerns that from their own testing on the day of the meeting that signal strength appeared not to be adequate. 

“It will be up to us to keep pressure on to see that we get a positive outcome.”

According to keynote speaker Telstra representative Robert Gruveski, there were many factors that influenced connections, such as topography.

“There is a percentage of the land mass in NSW that are not covered with Telstra, this is why the mobile black spot program is a good initiative,” he said.

“There have suggested to move the Crookwell tower, but we can’t relocate an existing tower. People who have some coverage and want to enhance their coverage, there are a lot of devices and tools available.

“Realistically we’re not going to fix NSW in the next 12-18 months.”

He said having a clear coverage objective was most important, going forward. 

He suggested additional infrastructure or devices, such as WiFi Calling – which allows users to automatically connect to the strongest WiFi network – as a temporary solution.

When attendees discussed the difference between city to country services, and listed previous incidents where emergency services could not be contacted due to the lack of mobile reception, Mr Gruveski said the options were limited and didn’t fix the terrain and signal issues.

He said another tower could only be erected if joint financial support was secured, citing $850,000 to $1m for each tower. 

ULSC mayor Brian McCormack, who spoke on the night with acting general manager Gary Woodman and councillor John Searl, said council was sympathetic to the problems faced.

“We pay for these services and should expect nothing less,” he said. 

Telstra representative Robert Gruveski.

Telstra representative Robert Gruveski.

In May, ULSC staff met with Telstra to discuss Grabben Gullen’s mobile coverage. On the night, they suggested a committee to be formed.

Both MP Pru Goward and Labor candidate Dr Ursula Stephens also pledged their support, and suggested data should be collected to identify exact black spots.

Member for Hume Angus Taylor, who was unable to make the meeting, said a forensic look into the options would be needed.

According to Telstra Area General Manager Chris Taylor, the Crookwell base station was operating correctly, providing “generally good 3G and 4G coverage”, with known 4G patches.

“Telstra will shortly be organising a site audit and drive survey of the area to better understand areas where there may be limited or no coverage in the town.”

Mr Montgomery is hopeful despite the fact the GGCPA was unable secure funding from the Black Spot Program and six towers have been erected in the Upper Lachlan. 

“It will be up to us to keep pressure on to see that we get a positive outcome. We can’t worry about what has been only look to what can be,” he said, with plans to apply for the recent round.

“Discussions will be ongoing, we are the squeaky wheel and until it’s oiled it will continue to squeak.”

Another solution 

Martin Welsby from Periphery, a soon to launch local Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP), spoke to the crowd about practical solutions to connectivity.

He suggested a fixed wireless network employing an alternative deployment approach using ‘microPoPs’ could overcome topographical challenges.

Selected residents would provide power to a microPoP installed on their premises – typically less than 30 watts – and would receive a significantly discounted internet plan in exchange.

Mr Welsby said innovative use of available technologies, with the support and assistance of the residents, can cost effectively improve communication services to rural districts.

“After the meeting I was approached by a number of residents to discuss what Periphery hope to achieve. Residents of rural area need better communication services,” he said.