the net in
This page considers the telecommunications infrastructure
It covers -
Australia's telecommunications infrastructure
reflects the nation's geography, history and markets.
By the mid-1990s that infrastructure provided robust delivery
of voice traffic to organisations and domestic consumers
across Australia. It has, however, struggled to keep pace
with increasing demand for delivery of data, with consequent
questions about competition, divides, investment and security.
beyond the kerb
voice over fixed-line
By 2000 Australia boasted a national 96.8% household penetration
rate for fixed-line phones, with suggestions that penetration
decreased marginally in the following years as consumers
relied on mobile phones. Penetration rates varied across
Australia, from 98.3% in the ACT to 91.4% in urban areas
of the Northern Territory and 76% in some remote areas.
At that time Telstra accounted for 10.24 million access
lines and Optus for some 400,000 access lines.
The universal service obligation (USO) requires Telstra
to "ensure that payphones are reasonably accessible
to all people in Australia on an equitable basis". The
ACA has issued a succession of reports
on Telstra’s performance in meeting that obligation.
Competition in the provision of payphones was introduced
in 1989. By 2003 over half the payphones in operation
were customer operated payphones, ie operated by entities
other than Telstra such as retailers and entities such
as TriTel and Optus that operate and supply their own
In 2001-02 the estimated number of payphones in Australia
was 71,635, of which 33,778 were operated by Telstra.
69% of Telstra payphones were located in urban areas (communities
of greater than 10,000 people), 27% in rural areas and
4% in remote areas. 36% of the population reported having
used a payphone in 1999–2000, down from 47% in 1998–99.
Much of the decline is arguably due to uptake of mobile
phones: 40% of respondents in a 2000 government survey
reporting less payphone use because of access to a mobile;
23% reported less use of the domestic fixed-line phone.
mobiles, wireless data and BPL
Australia is following Scandinavia in heading
towards an environment where there is one mobile phone
per head of population and uptake of broadband results
in an overall decline in the number of fixed line connections.
The Australian mobile phone market grew by around one
million new subscribers per year from 1994 (with peak
growth in 1995, when around two million subscribers joined).
In 2000 the number of mobile phone accounts had reached
8.5 million, compared to around 10.6 million fixed lines
in use at that time as "main lines" (with upwards
of a further 11 million lines in use). By December 2002
that had increased to 12.5 million mobile phone subscriptions,
with 72% of all households having access to a mobile.
The ITU suggests that at that time there were around 23
million subscribers in Australia, with some subscribers
having multiple accounts and using several telephone service
Particular mobile service providers have recently moved
to commoditise parts of their infrastructure. In 2001
for example Vodafone Australia sold 669 wireless communications
towers to Crown Castle Australia for US$130 million. Crown
Castle - owned by the US Crown Castle group and New Zealand-based
investor Jump Capital - is now Australia's largest independent
tower operator with almost 1,400 towers in Australia and
a presence in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and
Perth. In 2000 it purchased 700 wireless towers from Optus
for US$135 million.
Wireless internet access has been recurrently touted as
a solution for 'last mile' connectivity in suburban Australia.
In practice it has attracted most attention within a handful
of metropolitan areas (in particular central business
districts) and venues that attract consumers willing to
pay a premium for secure access (eg airports).
As at the beginning of 2004 it is estimated that there
were around 15 providers, sharing some $500,000 revenue
for three hundred 802.11-based wireless internet access
"primary locations (often encompassing multiple wireless
hotspots)" across Australia. Users often had multiple
subscriptions because of the lack of ubiquitous roaming.
Detailed notes about wireless access in Australia and
New Zealand are here.
Enthusiasts and vendors have hyped broadband over powerline
(BPL) - aka digital powerline communication (PLC) - for
voice and other traffic to the home or within the home.
Regulatory and commercial issues of that technology are
discussed in a supplementary
note elsewhere on this site.
We have highlighted the role of internet service
and content hosts (ICHs)
earlier in this profile.
The number of devices on the nodes is unknown and in practice
in unknowable, as there are no reporting requirements
for much equipment. Some data is collected by industry
organisations, analysts and government bodies about devices
imported into Australia and devices sold. That information
however is indicative only: it identifies equipment entering
the wholesale/retail distribution chain, rather than that
in actual use and that taken out of service. Surveys have
resulted in widely varying estimates of devices in use.
There is disagreement about the number of servers in use
within Australia on the internet and intranets. Some sense
can be gained from corporate reports of sales of high-end
servers and reports, well-based or otherwise, about uptake
of different server software.
As of 2002 the ABS estimates that 61% of all households
had a personal computer; 46% accessed the internet from
home. The ABS estimates that as of March 2003 there were
1,687 internet points of presence (down from 2,130 in
the preceding year) and 857,470 access lines. The number
of subscribers using Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) was
209,000, of 5.1 million subscribers overall.
There is ongoing disagreement about corporate and domestic
use of facsimile machines. One 2000 federal study suggested
that around 20% of households use fax machines, inconsistent
with claims in research for the Regional Telecommunications
Inquiry that residential use of fax averages 11% (22%
in remote households, 13% in regional rural households,
associated with agricultural home offices).
At that time an estimated 67% of SMEs used fax, a figure
that is likely to have subsequently significantly declined
as those enterprises shift to email. DCITA argues that
20-30% of all Australian international calls are fax transmissions
and that up to five billion pages are faxed in Australia