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Optus wants new mobile tower rules to steam roll obstinate councils and owners

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Ericsson’s Strand-Mount Unit


(Image: Ericsson)

Singtel-owned Australian telco Optus has called for rule changes that would compress Australia’s three layers of government overseeing mobile tower deployments into a consistent, uniform national scheme that would speed up the rollout of 5G.

To that end, the telco released a discussion paper on Friday that details its arguments, and also calls for telcos to be able to make “necessary minor and safe modifications” to utility poles already in place in order to add small cells.

“Current deployment rules are governed by multiple tiers of governments, each with differing compensation schemes, zoning and installation exemptions,” Optus vice-president of regulatory and public affairs Andrew Sheridan said last week.

“The rules, which were originally designed two decades ago for large infrastructure deployment, do not appear to address some of the practical implementation issues involved in the mass deployment of 5G small cell infrastructure.”

While the deployment of small cells would usually fall under low impact exemptions, Optus complained that heritage laws sometimes applied to poles and what it called “non-heritage items”, as well as to small cells deployed in residential areas.

The telco added that it often has to pay rent to pole owners, as well as to land owners upon which the pole is located.

“The issue is whether pole and land owners should be able to profit and delay the deployment of advanced 5G networks,” Optus said.

“We also observe an increasing trend of land owners, utilities and state entities viewing the future deployment of more cells and fibre links as a potential revenue source, rather than as an economic development.

“Clearly, this situation was not envisaged in 1997 when the legislation was introduced — a regime designed for stand-alone towers is not suitable for small cells that attach to existing infrastructure.”

Optus did concede though, the sort of economic benefits that 5G proponents push are due to happen with the deployment of standalone 5G. Networks such as those in South Korea are using non-standalone 5G, which lowers cost, but uses a 4G core.

Initially, small cells would be used to fill coverage gaps, Optus said in its paper.

“The full benefits of 5G will be achieved with densification of the [radio access network and the re-design of the network from macro-based to one which primarily uses small cells to deliver the speed and coverage required,” it said.

“In urban areas, this means potentially 10 times more urban sites will be required.”

Tower placement sees Labor refer matter to ANAO

On Monday morning, Labor said it had referred a matter regarding the placement of a mobile tower in the southern New England region to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

Over the weekend, Nine media reported a tower was placed at Kingstown on the property of mining magnate Gina Rinehart, despite the local community arguing for another site.

It is reported that locals said after two weeks of operation, the tower’s service has been non-existent a couple of kilometres away from it, even though it is meant to provide emergency services to the district. Federal local member Barnaby Joyce reportedly said the site of the tower was chosen by Telstra.

Rinehart is paid rent for the tower, which falls under the federal government’s mobile blackspots program.

“The actions of the Member for New England suggest the Coalition is more concerned with their own interests, rather than making a genuine attempt to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia,” Labor’s Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones said in a statement on Monday.

A September 2016 audit by the ANAO into the blackspots program said the Department of Communications had erred in its selection criteria and ability to evaluate impact and cost effectiveness.

Specifically, ANAO said at the time, the department’s selection criteria: Allowed for the expansion and improvement of existing coverage, rather than providing coverage to areas with no mobile access; did not have methodologies for assessing the technical and financial aspects of proposals, especially in regards to applicant costings; and said the department did not have a sufficient capacity to assess the impact and cost effectiveness of the program, because there was no evaluation framework formed beforehand.

“The department’s assessment of applicant costings for proposed base stations lacked sufficient rigour,” the ANAO report said.

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Toyota GR010 Hybrid racer rumored to spawn a street version

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Toyota has a new racing car for the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship. The vehicle is called the GR010 Hybrid and what’s more exciting than a new racing car is that reports claim a street-legal version will launch in the near future. The vehicle seen below is the 2021 GR010 Hybrid racing car, but it’s unclear what exactly the street-legal version might look like.

The racing car was built to meet the WEC series regulations, which only allow a single configuration. To perform at its peak on both low and high downforce tracks, the vehicle has an adjustable rear wing. Toyota does warn that the GR010 Hybrid will be slower than the TS050 racing car that it replaces.

The reason it will be slower has to do with regulations for the racing series. Toyota was forced to make the GR010 357 pounds heavier and 32 percent less powerful than the TS050 it’s replacing. The GR010 Hybrid is also nearly 10-inches longer, 4-inches higher, and 4-inches wider than its predecessor.

Toyota expects it will be about ten seconds slower at Le Mans than the TS050. Ten seconds is an eternity on a race track. Development took 18 months, and the car uses a gas-electric powertrain. The gas engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 670 horsepower sent to the rear wheels. The front wheels get 268 horsepower from an electric motor-generator.

The total output is 938 horsepower. However, for WEC racing, total power is limited to 670 horsepower. We hope to learn more details about the street version of the car soon. The first race for the racing version will happen on March 19 at Sebring. Le Mas will occur on June 12, and the car will participate in other events during the season.

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Some Ford Mustang Mach-E deliveries have been delayed

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Ford has officially confirmed that it is delaying the delivery of hundreds of Mach-E electric vehicles to perform additional quality checks. A very limited number of Mach-E electric vehicles were delivered late last year. With Ford saying it was delaying deliveries to perform additional quality checks after delivering those vehicles last year, it’s easy to wonder if the owners of those vehicles discovered some issues.

Ford says that it is performing additional quality checks on several hundred Mach-E models built before dealer shipments started last month. The automaker says it wants to ensure the EV’s meet the quality customers expect and deserve. Ford took a beating on the new Ford Explorer’s launch when the vehicle launched with some significant issues that delayed deliveries.

Ford doesn’t want vehicles with issues to get into the hands of buyers again. Ford hasn’t confirmed an issue with the Mach-E, but it would seem odd to stop deliveries and conduct additional quality checks if there wasn’t some sort of suspicion of a problem with the quality of the vehicles.

It may simply be that Ford wants its new electric vehicle to be perfect. The delay could be something as small as checking body panels to be sure they’re appropriately aligned. There were some rumors that the EV didn’t charge as fast as expected, but it’s unclear if the checks have anything to do with the charging system.

We were able to spend some quality time hands-on driving the 2021 Mach-E last month. Anyone wanting more details on Ford’s new electric vehicle should check out our hands-on. Ford has a lot riding on this vehicle, and if it wants to compete with Tesla and other big names in the automotive market, it needs to get things right. Delays are certainly better than delivering vehicles that don’t meet expectations.

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2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Review – A very rational compact crossover

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Times are tough if you’re in the market for a brand new all-wheel drive crossover on a severe budget, but the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer thinks it has the answer. Cheapest model in Chevy’s SUV line-up, its sticker price isn’t quite that attention-grabbing $19k by the time you add AWD, but even then it still won’t break the bank – just as long as you’re willing to put up with the Trailblazer’s compromises to get there.

As you’d expect, the Trailblazer owes many of its styling cues to the larger Blazer SUV. The proportions look more muscular and intentional than the overall dimensions would suggest, particularly the squinting headlamps atop a gaping lower front grille. The Midnight Blue Metallic of my test car wasn’t the most flattering shade, mind: brighter colors help emphasize the contrast sections, like the chrome and the chunky cladding.

In displacement-obsessed America, the Trailblazer’s 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine is a kooky outlier: it’s easy to forget that, over in Europe and Asia, squeezing more out of thriftier sippings of gas has been the status-quo for many years now. Chevy’s three-pot gets you 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, but the biggest surprise is that it’s actually the larger of the two engines the Trailblazer can be had with.

Standard is an even smaller 1.2-liter turbo, coaxing 137 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque from its three cylinders. It uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), unlike the 1.3-liter with its 9-speed automatic. If you want all-wheel drive rather than power to the front wheels alone, you’ll need to cough up the extra for the bigger engine.

The 2021 Trailblazer FWD L starts at just $19,000 (plus $995 destination), making it less than half the average selling price of a new car in America right now. You’ll pay $3,100 more for the Trailblazer AWD LS 1.3L, the first trim offering the punchier engine and all-wheel drive. My review car was the positively-plush (in comparison) Trailblazer AWD LT, at $28,180 with options and destination.

Your money gets you 17-inch high-gloss black alloy wheels, front fog lamps and LED daytime running lights, power-adjusted side mirrors, electric windows, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, OnStar 4G LTE WiFi, a 7-inch infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and both USB Type-A and Type-C ports plus an aux-in. Safety tech includes lane-keep assistance, forward collision alerts, tire pressure monitoring, and automatic emergency and front pedestrian braking.

The $620 Adaptive Cruise Control package added the smarter cruise, leather wrapping for the shifter and steering wheel, a 4.2-inch color display sandwiched between the analog gauges for the driver, and a rear center armrest. Another $620 added the Convenience package, with single-zone automatic air conditioning, auto dimming for the rearview mirror, a 120V power outlet, SiriusXM, an 8-inch upgrade for the infotainment touchscreen, and rear USB Type-A and -C charging ports.

Finally, $345 throws in rear parking assistance, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot warnings. There’s no leather option, only a leatherette upgrade from the perfectly satisfactory cloth, and weirdly no wireless charging pad available, strange since Chevy has been ahead of many by embracing wireless smartphone projection. You can even connect two Bluetooth devices simultaneously, which is more than many far more expensive SUVs can manage.

Out on the road, the 1.3-liter engine underwhelms. Acceleration is on the sluggish side, and though urban nippiness is reasonable the Trailblazer starts to feel a little more out of its depth on the highway. Put your foot down to take advantage of a gap in the next lane and there’s a disconcerting absence of grunt as the gearbox hurries to get you back into the power band. On Michigan highways, where a 70 mph limit typically means 80 mph in the slow lane, I held back from openings in faster traffic more often than I would in other small crossovers.

The same reticence appears on more interesting roads, where the Trailblazer fails to bring the fire. Squishy suspension makes some sense when you’re trying to smooth out unruly asphalt – though the short wheelbase and no lack of body roll means rougher sections still make themselves known – but does no favors for enthusiast drivers.

Perhaps, though, that’s asking too much. Economy works in the Trailblazer’s favor, with the 1.3L FWD rated for up to 31 mpg combined by the EPA, and my AWD version for 26 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. My mixed driving hit those numbers with no problems. The cabin design is unmemorable, with swathes of different tone plastic failing to lift what’s a generally dark interior, but it at least feels decently screwed-together and spacious.

25.3 cu-ft of cargo space with the rear seats up expands to 54.4 cu-ft with them down. Honda’s HR-V has more; Nissan’s Kicks has less. What the Chevy gets that neither rival offers is a folding front passenger seat, opening almost the full length of the cabin for hauling longer items. The HR-V and Trailblazer have more legroom in the rear than the Kicks does, too.

I don’t dislike the 2021 Trailblazer, I just struggle to remember it. The idea of a smaller, peppier version of the Blazer isn’t a bad one, and Chevrolet’s styling has some good angles, it’s just that this compact crossover doesn’t really go far enough in any direction to stand out of the crowd. Mazda’s CX-30 is in the same ballpark for price as this LT trim, but looks and drives so much better. The Trailblazer brings more practicality and cargo space to the party, but I know which I’d rather look outside and see parked on my driveway.

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