Mt Wellington, Tasmania- one of Broadcast Australia’s 600+ sites across Australia with over half of them available for co-location. To view our full site list visit site finder or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Broadcast Australia offers largest population and geographic coverage among independent tower providers Clients of the 600+ tower network include Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, TPG, and other wireless providers.
One of the main players within the active infrastructure sharing market of Australia is Broadcast Australia (BA), part of BAI Communications. With a diverse portfolio of structures ranging from 30m to over 230m, and as one of the most mature portfolios, it has the best regional and rural penetration among Australian tower companies. Servicing not just broadcasters, it provides infrastructure leasing and related services to the majority of the MNOs, NBN Co., as well as other telecommunications players. In this exclusive interview, TowerXchange learns about BA’s current business, operations, and future growth areas.
TowerXchange: Please introduce yourself, your role, and company.
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: I am the General Manager for Sales, Product and Business Development for Broadcast Australia. Broadcast Australia has the largest population and geographic coverage of the independent tower providers in Australia. We manage TV and radio broadcast services across our nationwide tower network for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). We also work with all the wireless broadcasters and operators across Australia to help them reach their customers using our infrastructure. Broadcast Australia is part of BAI Communications who provide communications infrastructure solutions for customers across the globe. In my role, I manage the Site Sharing and Commercial Broadcast businesses for Broadcast Australia.
TowerXchange: What is the role of Broadcast Australia within the country’s telecom infrastructure market? Please also tell us more your site sharing division.
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Broadcast Australia has the best regional and rural penetration among Australian tower companies. One of the differentiating factors is our ability to provide power, buildings, and structure access. In many rural and remote areas, we are the only telecom infrastructure company providing a solution. We also run and manage networks, for example the ABC’s national radio network infrastructure and the NSW Government Radio Network for the state’s Telco Authority.
TowerXchange: Please tell us about BA’s operations and network. What type of assets do you own, where, and how much?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Broadcast Australia operates over 600 sites across Australia, providing 99% population coverage for our customers. We own standard assets that you find in any telecom infrastructure company, and then have some unusual assets in our portfolio. For example, we have sites with a standard 30m structure, a building (shelter), power, and AC, which we share with mobile operators, commercial broadcasters, backhaul providers, and use for our own managed service networks. We also have sites with structures over 230m high, with multiple structures covering vast areas of land. For example, our Sydenham site in Melbourne (Vic) is over 100 hectares with five structures and has multiple customers on the site. Finally, we own the land at 60% of our sites, which means we can on-board customers faster than the rest of the market, where sites are typically leased.
TowerXchange: What is the current coverage of the BA network (geographical footprint)? What are the plans for future investments/expansion?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: We cover 99% of the population in Australia as a result of our mandate to ensure broadcasting coverage. This is typically covered with large structures and sites in metropolitan areas and smaller, more targeted sites for regional and rural areas. Our broadcast network does not have the same need for expansion as telco networks typically have, so it isn’t that dynamic. We have made targeted site acquisitions in the past and will look at these opportunistically in the future. We also build new structures for customers, both telcos and other customers as required, and continue to look for opportunities where this makes sense for our customers and for us as a business. We have an advantage in regional and remote areas where we have our own in-house end-to-end infrastructure deployment teams – from property through to engineering, RF, delivery, rigging, and installation technicians with many years of experience. These teams work together and can tackle difficult jobs which other companies may find more of a challenge.
TowerXchange: How does BA go about its network planning?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Our 600+ tower network already brings coverage to 99% of the Australian population. In terms of people and processes involved in network planning, we have full end-to-end deployment capability across wireless communications and different skilled teams that specialise in each phase of the deployment process. We tend to carry out most work in-house, although occasionally we will outsource elements such as site acquisition or civil construction depending on the volume of work involved.
TowerXchange: Can you tell us a bit about your clients for site sharing?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: We work with everyone in Australia who needs broadcasting services or site sharing. Our core customers are Australian telcos, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, TPG, and of course NBN Co’s fixed wireless network. We also work with a wide range of other telecommunications and wireless providers such as DDA (Digital Distribution Australia), Vertel, and many others. We work with regional commercial broadcasters too, who often share our broadcasting infrastructure. Our services depend on our customers’ requirements, for example some may only need to be co-located on a tower, whilst other customers require us to provide a managed service for their entire network.
TowerXchange: What is the range of fees for clients to access BA sites? Or, more broadly speaking, what are lease rates like in Australia for tower leasing/sharing?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Lease rates vary widely in Australia depending on our customers’ network design and needs. For example, smaller installations such as an Internet-of-Things (IoT) solution have almost no physical impact on a site and simply plug into a standard power socket. In other situations, we have been asked to provide a purpose-built structure and building. In most cases, the lease rates reflect the cost of building infrastructure. This can be more expensive in rural areas, due to the distance from the material supply locations and the actual site. We also discuss with customers the price structure that works best for them, whether it means paying up front or annually, or again adjusting payments and terms to support the forecasted growth in their business.
TowerXchange: What is the typical setup on a BA site?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: We have four or five standard types of sites, ranging from 200m+ digital TV and radio broadcasting structures – one has its own cable car, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere – through to standard 30m structures, with a small compound and building. We typically offer building space, power, and AC to customers where they want it, which reduces their capital cost of installation.
TowerXchange: Would you be able to tell us what percentage of your assets are co-located?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Because we have a relatively mature network, for non-broadcast customers only, we tend to see 2.5 or so tenants on the older, more active area of our network. This would be higher if we included our broadcast customers. This ratio drops off as we look at the newer areas of the network, or very remote locations. The nature of our broadcast business means that overall, the tenancy ratio is higher than most other tower companies, because we have broadcast services on almost every site.
TowerXchange: What are some of the challenges in building a network in Australia? What about some of the operational challenges?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: The core challenge is the combination of climate and distance. Our sites need to be built to withstand extreme temperatures (usually hot, but occasionally cold) and can also suffer from natural disasters, such as bushfires, floods or heavy winds. As a network operator and the national emergency broadcasting partner of the ABC, these are obviously key considerations for us in managing the network. We work proactively to make sure we stay on air. For example, we need to reduce vegetation near our sites to protect them during fires, have enough batteries on sites to ensure that we stay on air if the power grid connection is cut off until it is repaired, and have sufficient air conditioning to allow continuous operation through prolonged hot periods. We also need to consider the flora and fauna – occasionally our field teams send back photographs of snakes on our sites. Whilst this is interesting, it is also a safety concern. Our teams follow processes to ensure they remain safe when working in remote areas where first aid may be delayed, and mobile phone coverage non-existent.
TowerXchange: What would you say is the split of on-grid vs off-grid sites?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Our sites are typically connected to the grid. We have trialled renewable energy (mostly solar) in Muswellbrook (NSW) but we rely on grid power for the bulk of our infrastructure. The power load from broadcasting equipment is typically higher than telco infrastructure, so grid power is the usual solution. Thankfully the grid’s availability, stability, and quality is good in Australia. However, in the event of power outage, generators at our larger sites will take over automatically. They can also be controlled remotely, and shared with our customers whenever they require a secure connection to a backup generator. These generators can also serve during natural disasters.
TowerXchange: How would you describe the current state of infrastructure sharing in Australia? How has this evolved over the years and where do you see it going?
Simon McFadden, General Manager, Sales, Product and Business Development, Broadcast Australia: Tower infrastructure sharing is relatively mature in Australia, the main telcos have infrastructure sharing agreements with each other, and with the main tower infrastructure providers. In terms of pricing models, we are seeing some newer approaches, moving away from the “menu price list” approach to an “all you can eat” type of pricing. But overall, we don’t expect the price level for a new tenant on a site to be changing much in the future. This is mostly due to the fact that customers want access to infrastructure at low cost, and without the burden associated to building their own structure. One of the areas Australia is lagging behind compared to international markets is the lack of neutral hosts in the distributed antenna systems (DAS) and in-building systems (IBS). The telcos and infrastructure owners – such as railways and airports – would benefit from having a neutral party to build, operate, and fund changes to the infrastructure. I think the primary reason we haven’t seen this in Australia is because the telcos tend to work very closely together, taking turns to lead the construction of a DAS or IBS and sharing the costs. This works for the incumbent telcos but not as well for new market entrants or other parties that may want to share a DAS system or deploy additional technology such as WiFi or emergency services comms. We find that in our overseas operations in the United States and Canada, a neutral host solution works well for telcos, emergency services organisations, and of course for infrastructure owners. The main thing to get right is the technology solution, to ensure everyone benefits from sharing the network. The Australian market suffered a bit a few years ago from DAS systems with technology that was not perceived to be ideal, but I have not seen anything like that recently. As 5G is rolled out, starting probably next year, I do think that we will have more DAS and small cells and I’m hopeful that this will present an opportunity for a neutral host to build some shared infrastructure, which we of course would like to have a role in.
This interview initially appeared on the TowerXChange online site. You can see the original interview here