Field Solutions Group: The Rural Telco Tier 1s Should Keep an Eye On

M. Rogers

Summary Bullets:

  • FSG, a telco focused only on regional and rural Australia, is set to become Australia’s fourth MNO in 2022 as it builds out a 200-plus tower network.
  • The company has valuable spectrum assets, a unique neutral host approach, and a focus on critical verticals to become a threat in the enterprise 5G market in rural areas.

A little-known, fledgling telecom company called Field Solutions Group (FSG) has quietly become Australia’s fourth mobile network operator.  The company, which focuses specifically on providing FWA, NBN, and mobile services to regional and rural Australian businesses and government organizations, has an ambitious plan to build out more than 200 mobile towers in regional and rural Australia by 2023.  Currently, the company only offers FWA on its ‘Regional Australia Network,’ but through government grants from the Mobile Blackspot Program, technology partnerships with Optus, and the recent acquisition of Tasmanet, the company hopes to be a disruptive fourth MNO option for regional and rural governments and businesses.  While the company is small, earning AUD 18.8 million in FY 2021 (ended June 30, 2021), the company has a few things working in its favor that could enable it to become a real challenger to the largest telcos when competing for business and enterprise 5G revenues in rural and regional Australia over the coming years.

5G Spectrum

FSG was awarded 5G spectrum licenses in the mmWave (26GHz and 28GHz) bands in December 2020 as part of the ACMA’s ‘area-wide apparatus license’ scheme.  The licenses are intended to provide better fixed wireless and mobile services to regional and rural Australia.  FSG’s licenses cover 85% of the Australian landmass, with exclusions only coming in the metropolitan areas around Australia’s capital cities.  The mmWave spectrum allows for very high-bandwidth and low-latency connections.  This spectrum is well suited towards applications like autonomous vehicle control and machine automation, granted over a relatively small geographic area.  However, FSG has a stated focus on the mining, resources, and agriculture verticals which could benefit from sites being connected to mmWave 5G to enable services like automation.

Neutral Host

FSG is set to become the first neutral host MNO in Australia.  A neutral host is a company that provides all the necessary infrastructure, like towers, backhaul, and even radio equipment, which then runs services from multiple operators or even provides private network services.  Currently, FSG is building several neutral host sites along a rural highway route in Queensland as part of the mobile blackspots program, and it already has a partnership with Optus to host them as the first of three total tenants at those sites (including FSG).  Beyond the neutral host agreement, Optus also provides MVNO services to FSG to enable 4G/5G coverage for customers beyond its limited rural network coverage.  The ability to provide neutral host capabilities at sites will enable FSG to readily partner with larger telcos or even private networking providers when servicing enterprise clients.  Global 5G giants like Vodafone and NTT have begun to develop private 5G offerings aligned to the same industries as FSG, such as mining and agriculture, and could readily partner with FSG in Australia once its network buildout is complete.

Managed Services

Beyond its mobile network ambitions, FSG has also stated a strategic goal of growing in the managed services space, particularly around cloud and networking.  It has built a network orchestration and automation platform to enable easy management and provision of services across mobile, FWA, NBN, and private networks.  Furthermore, the acquisition of Tasmanet gives it capabilities in managed security and cloud.  These building blocks are important to developing 5G enterprise services.  As FSG grows, it could become a veritable threat to the Tier 1 telcos in the key mining, resources, and agriculture verticals, and it could also attract SI partners more capable of delivering transformation solutions leveraging the FSG network and their integration solutions around cloud, analytics, IoT, and industry-specific applications.

 

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