The Government is funding trials of alternative ways to deliver voice services in rural and remote areas of Australia.

The ability to make telephone calls is so embedded in our everyday lives that it is largely taken for granted. That ability is of course backed up by a huge investment in infrastructure.

In urban areas, there is usually the choice of fixed and mobile networks to make calls. In rural and remote areas, callers are often dependent on a single network operated by Telstra and supported by Commonwealth and industry funding that offers one basic product: a plain old telephone service.

The $2 million Alternative Voice Services trials program (or AVST) aims to identify new ways to deliver voice services, including by new providers, assess their effectiveness, and raise awareness of alternative solutions to provide better services and functionality.

Six AVST grants have now been awarded to Concerotel, NBN Co, Optus, Pivotel, Telstra and Zetifi to deliver up to 885 trial services in different rural and remote locations across Australia.

  • Concerotel will deliver up to 200 trial services on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island using a voice application on customers' mobile phones optimised to work with satellite backhaul. It will work with Indian Ocean Territories Telecom and Norfolk Island Data Services on the islands.
  • NBN Co will deliver up to 260 trial services nationwide. It will trial voice services over data on its fixed wireless and satellite networks, and also trial voice services using a new low band fixed wireless solution. It is in a consortium with Australian Private Networks, Field Solutions Group, MultiWave and Telstra.
  • Optus will offer 15 trial services at pre-determined regional locations in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. It will trial fixed and mobile voice calls over data and offer optional broadband data access with backhaul provided using its satellite network.
  • Pivotel will offer up to 60 trial services at 30 locations in regional and remote areas of Australia. Triallists will be able to use the full functionality of mobile handsets to make and receive voice calls over data when at home or out and about.
  • Telstra will offer up to 300 trial services, in 34 target locations across Australia1. The majority of services will be fixed voice services over data delivered using its 4G network. Telstra will also trial a small number of voice services delivered over satellite.
  • Zetifi will deliver up to 50 trial voice services over data to farms in rural areas of NSW and Vic that currently have poor mobile coverage.

The trial services typically involve new applications of technologies like wireless and satellite. They often provide new functionality such as the ability to make and receive calls using the customer's mobile handset in the home even if mobile network coverage is poor or absent.

Most of the trials include equipment like external antennas and back-up batteries to increase service reliability.

The trials are now ramping up with grantees recruiting participants. The trials will run for a year, concluding in June 2022.

Trial services are free for triallists, but they may be provided over existing connections which triallists are paying for. Rebates or credits may be available. Some grantees may also offer additional services at additional cost. Any additional costs need to be clearly identified and accepted in advance by triallists.

Registering your interest with grantees and their retailers

If you are a consumer living in a rural or remote area and you are interested in participating in a trial, you can contact the grantees or the retailers they are working with directly.

Concerotel Mark Sprey 07 7353 5060
NBN Co Australian Private Networks avstrial@apn.net.au
Field Solutions Group avst@fieldsolutions-group.com
MultiWave avst@multiwave.com.au
Telstra voicetrial@team.telstra.com

Optus has already finalised recruiting  triallists

Pivotel 1300 882 448 or avst@pivotel.com.au
Telstra 13 22 00
Zetifi

1300 093 711

Department's register

Alternatively, you could register with the department, and we will provide your details to grantees.

To process your request, we may disclose your information to a third party, such as grantees and/or other organisations who are involved in  trial services.

It will be a matter for grantees whether they contact you to offer you a trial.

Privacy

Our Privacy Policy contains information about privacy obligations, as well as complaint handling processes and how to access and/or seek correction of personal information held by the department.

If you have queries, comments or feedback, please email us on: USG@communications.gov.au.

Program background

The AVST program was announced as part of the Government's response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee (RTIRC) and reflects particular concerns about networks serving the most remote parts of Australia.

On 20 December 2019, Minister Fletcher issued a draft design for the trials. Documents relating to this consultation process are available on our Have Your Say page.

The program guidelines were issued on 4 August 2020. The guidelines, and further details on funded projects, are available on the GrantConnect website.

1 Alpha, Aratula, Monto, Mossman, Mourilyan, Rolleston, Wandoan, Warrego Qld; Balingup, Beacon, Bencubbin, Gnowangerup, Mingenew, Morawa, Pickering Brook WA; Batchelor, Elliott NT; Bemboka, Berrigan, Coolamon, Cobargo, Dunedoo, Durras, East Gresford, Mount Herring, Tocumwal NSW; Dromana, Greta, Moyhu, Welshpool Vic; Lameroo, Mount Torrens SA; Lady Barron, Whitemark Tas