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Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA), the entity created when the country’s two junior mobile telcos merged in 2009, has given a double endorsement to the government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) plans while delivering its annual results on Wednesday in Sydney.

The company said the NBN would give mobile carriers like VHA a platform to improve their mobile networks by providing more pervasive fibre than they can build themselves, and also announced that it has signed on as a retailer for the NBN’s coming trial in the NSW town of Armidale.

Fok Kin-ning, chairman of 50% owner Hutchison Telecommunications Australia, said: “The NBN provides the opportunity to create value through a significant base station access relationship, and potentially to expand its products and services to Australian consumers.

“The experience of the 3 Group elsewhere in the world has shown that government initiatives like this can be very productive.”

VHA CEO Nigel Dews said the company’s participation in the Armidale NBN trials “are a great opportunity for us to learn more about how the NBN will complement our existing mobile network.

“We will also work with NBN Co to develop products and test the complementary nature of high-speed fibre as an interconnection point to support mobile transmission or base station access.”

Base station backhaul has caused major headaches for VHA, being at least partly to blame for the company’s poor network performance, dubbed “Vodafail”. The company has already announced network upgrades, with Dews reiterating a commitment to spend A$1 billion on its 850 MHz network by the end of 2011.

He said the company has already rolled out new base stations at 550 sites, with another 220 sites to be completed by July and more than 700 extra sites scheduled for deployment by year-end. There will also be more than 1,400 new sites deployed in its 2100 MHz network.

Dews said that when the project is complete, VHA will have replaced all of the company’s 5,800 2G and 3G sites with the Huawei SingleRAN system, providing it “a straightforward and flexible upgrade path to LTE”.

On the financial side, VHA reported adding 681,000 new customers to end the year with 7.6 million users on its network, with the strongest growth in the postpaid sector, in spite of the increased churn triggered by its network and customer service problems. ®

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