Vocus has signed a contract to acquire Challenge Networks, which builds on Vocus’ strategy to provide secure, high-capacity connectivity to Australian enterprise and government customers – wherever they are – through its national fibre, satellite, and now wireless network infrastructure.
The addition of wireless network capability complements Vocus’ $1 billion investment strategy, which includes capacity upgrades to the company’s existing network and the deployment of substantial new fibre infrastructure – including the Horizon and Highclere projects in the north-west of Australia.
It also follows the company’s launch of Vocus Satellite – Starlink in December, after Vocus signed an agreement with SpaceX to offer low earth orbit satellite (LEO) services to enterprise and government customers across Australia.
As a leading provider of private LTE/5G networks, Challenge Networks designs, deploys, and operates private 4G and 5G networks for customers that require secure, reliable, high-capacity wireless coverage to support operational technology (OT) use cases on customer sites.
These custom-built mobile networks can be deployed on sites such as mines, hospitals, universities, floating platforms at sea, vessels, ports, manufacturing and logistics sites, or any other special-purpose site that requires highly reliable and secure wireless connectivity.
“Through this acquisition, Vocus will be able to provide fibre or LEO satellite connectivity to the perimeter of a site, and then through a private LTE network provide campus-wide wireless connectivity for applications such as autonomous vehicles, IoT sensors, building management systems, voice calls, push-to-talk devices, smartphones, tablets, and computers anywhere on the site.”
Challenge Networks co-founder Simon Lardner will join the Vocus business, along with Challenge Networks staff, and said the team was excited for the next chapter of the business’ growth. Wireless industry veteran and Challenge Networks co-founder Jack Smyth will retire from the business.
“Private LTE and 5G puts the control, coverage, reliability and performance characteristics of mobile networks in the hands of companies that really need dedicated, mission-critical communication, without having to compete for network resources with public users. We design, build and operate networks that are well dimensioned for a site to give optimal coverage and performance – even in remote locations such as the Pilbara, or off-shore platforms at sea,” he said.
Private mobile networks are a rapidly growing area of the telecommunications sector, with a forecast compound annual growth rate of 18.6% globally and a market opportunity of $A14.88B by 2029.
Vocus’ acquisition of Challenge Networks will enable it to build more private LTE and 5G networks for customers and then provide them with a fully managed service on a service-billed basis rather than customers’ having to fund the infrastructure build.
The acquisition will give Vocus a significant inventory of mobile spectrum, with a geographic focus in the resource-rich regions of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.
This will enable Vocus to deploy private mobile networks to companies with operational technology requirements in these regions without regulatory delays and with superior mobile service levels and bandwidth utilisation.
Private mobile networks provide many of the technology advantages of public mobile networks, without the potential downsides.
Public mobile networks can become unreliable in peak hour, have blackspots in regional areas, and can become congested if towers have inadequate backhaul connectivity.
Wi-Fi may suit some non-critical environments, but the cost of retrofitting in-building cabling for access points can be high and the system still may not cope with many hundreds or thousands of devices connecting at once.
Private mobile networks, in comparison, are engineered to provide perfect coverage for their target site, have superior security and performance, are dimensioned according to a known number of devices connected at the location and can prioritise traffic based on defined criteria.
The technology is ideal for industry sectors such as mining, oil and gas, public safety, defence, utilities and renewable energy.
As part of its wider network and product offering, Vocus will now integrate full turnkey private mobile network capability including site survey, spectrum planning, network design, RF engineering, vendor selection, procurement, delivery, acceptance testing and ongoing service operation and network assurance.