Posties Finding Black Spots. Tech Talk Column 327.

I am aiming high today. I wish to create a new eponymous law. I will call it Dickerson’s Dissatisfaction with Advancing Telecommunications Law or DDATL for short. It goes like this: “As our telecommunications services improve, so do our expectation levels such that our dissatisfaction level remains the same.” I am happy to receive submissions on a more succinct wording.

I go back to 26 July 1990. I sold my first mobile phone. The coverage at the time was provided by one tower in our local area. Making a call was hit and miss at best. Despite the promises of telecommunications providers at the time that a mobile phone would give you something you could not buy (time) you didn’t gain a lot because you could not travel very far in one town or suburb before your call dropped out. You ended up stopped on the side of the road making a call rather than sitting in a comfy chair making a call on a landline. And people complained about the lack of reception and the fact their expensive mobile phone was useless most of the time.

We have progressed somewhat. We have approximately 22,000 mobile phone towers in Australia now. We have improved our coverage in cities and towns and not only is it possible to drive around in most built-up areas with good coverage, you can even drive between many towns and make phone calls. And the number one complaint is still about the lack of coverage. It may even have progressed from lack of coverage on a phone call to slow Internet speeds but coverage is still an issue. You see how DDATL is applied here. Our services have improved dramatically but we now expect so much more. A similar line of thinking is applicable in terms of Internet connections.

Well the Australian Government recognises DDATL (maybe not the eponymous law – yet – but the concept) and has embarked on a program to improve our mobile phone reception with an interesting idea.

Firstly, to improve our reception, we need to understand what our current reception is. The carriers have coverage maps but they are not as detailed as we would like and they are specific to each carrier. We need an overall map.

Sending out vehicles to drive the streets of Australia sounds like an expensive and time-consuming exercise – unless you attach equipment to vehicles already out there. And that is exactly what is about to happen.

Australia Post has been owned by the Australian Government since Federation in 1901. It has approximately 20,600 delivery vehicles delivering up to 2.3 million letters each day to a database of 12.3 million addresses. I can’t think of another organisation that has the same regular coverage of such a footprint.

A new plan will see $20 million committed to fitting mobile signal-tracking devices to Australia Post vehicles to help measure signal strength as these vehicles do their normal deliveries. Data collected will include mobile coverage in addition to capacity issues. Once the data is collected over a period of time, the Australian Government will have a comprehensive coverage map to then target funding through the Mobile Black Spot Program and address coverage issues. If this data was shared with the carriers, it would also allow carriers to make decisions on investment in new towers.

There are some areas where mail deliveries do not go but these could be surveyed separately once the rest of the data is in.

Tell me if you think my new eponymous law is going to take off and soon be part of everyday language at

Mathew Dickerson

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