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Optus partners with Starlink: Can it rival Telstra mobile in regional areas?

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Optus is gunning to improve its mobile network coverage by becoming the first telco to offer satellite-to-phone service across Australia.

Optus has announced plans to boost its mobile connectivity using SpaceX's Starlink satellite constellation.

Telstra's known to have the upper hand in regional Australia when it comes to network coverage. However, an Optus and SpaceX partnership will see Optus keep Telstra in its sights with its latest venture.

Key takeaways of the Optus and Starlink partnership:

  • Optus plans to roll out SMS from late 2024, with voice and data from late 2025 using satellite technology.
  • Customers will only need compatible mobile handsets and there will be no need for additional equipment.
  • Its reach will include 60% of Australia's land mass that currently has no mobile coverage.
  • The satellite-to-phone coverage will be extensively tested before launch. Further information on pricing, how it'll work, and accessibility will be provided closer to its official launch.
Good to know. Optus's 4G network coverage reaches 98.8% of the Aussie population. Telstra's figure sits at 99.5% and has always seen it dominate regional Australia. Finder's own data shows 5 times more people looked for a plan on the Telstra network compared to the Optus network between 1 January and 12 July 2023.

What type of mobile handsets will be compatible?

This is likely the question front of mind for anyone reading about the Optus and SpaceX partnership. Matt Williams, managing director for marketing and revenue at Optus cleared a few things up for Finder.

"Handsets which are 3G dependent will not work with this service as the technology is too old," Williams said.

"We anticipate the service will work with most existing 4G capable mobile handsets, meaning an upgrade should not be necessary for most Optus customers.

"Optus will be testing a variety of handsets closer to service launch and will confirm service expectations for popular handsets at that time."

Will the Optus, SpaceX partnership shake up Telstra's reach?

Optus's news comes right after 2 key movements in the telco space.

The first was the Australian Competition Tribunal denying Telstra and TPG a regional Australia network sharing deal, which would have seen Telstra make further strides in its network coverage.

Second, Telstra announced its own partnership with Starlink to offer satellite internet plans and voice services to rural and remote Australia towards the end of 2023.

It appears both telcos are bidding to bridge the digital divide between metro and regional Australia and expand their customer base. Optus is focusing on mobile, Telstra on internet.

"Australia's vastness and terrain can make it difficult for any operator to provide mobile coverage everywhere it is needed – especially in remote or hard-to-reach locations," Williams said.

This is a truly innovative model for Australia – connecting satellites to standard mobile phones – and a significant evolution beyond the services SpaceX has provided in Australia to date. It will create a unique experience for Optus customers."

It's going to be interesting to see closer to launch how Optus rolls out its satellite-to-phone service. We'll keep you updated as more information comes to light.

Not an Optus customer but want to sign up with the telco? Compare mobile plans from Optus if you're keen to sign up with the second-largest network provider in Australia.

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