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Telstra calls for near halving of NBN wholesale price

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(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Australia’s incumbent carrier has said something needs to give when it comes to reselling services on the National Broadband Network (NBN), as current arrangements are unsustainable.

Speaking to shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Tuesday, CEO Andy Penn said Australians are paying some of the highest prices in the world for broadband, and that the price is likely to continue increasing unless wholesale charges are addressed.

“The current arrangements are unsustainable, and ultimately this can only lead to poorer service and higher prices for broadband for all Australians,” Penn said.

“[The wholesale price] has to come down, and not by AU$2, but by more than AU$20.”

Penn said the rate charged by Telstra and set by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to its competitors for ADSL services is around AU$20, while NBN is charging AU$44 per month currently, and is set to increase to AU$51 by 2022.

Telstra is expecting that by the time the NBN is completed, it will part with AU$2.5 billion each year to NBN, which is part of the reason why the telco is implementing its Telstra2022 plan.

Must read: Telstra2022: Key takeaways from Telstra’s new strategy

Chair John Mullen said the company had believed there could still be money made from selling NBN services until recently.

“The NBN will have reduced Telstra’s net profit after tax by close to a half when fully rolled out. Not a few per cent, half,” Mullen said. “Having been privatised by the government in 1997, the government is now effectively re-nationalising half of the company again.”

“To give some scale to that impact, what we are losing through this policy of half our business is approximately equivalent to a company the size of Qantas.”

In its August full-year results, the company reported net profit of AU$3.5 billion, down 9 percent, on AU$26 billion of revenue.

The telco reported customer base growth across both fixed and mobile.

On the back of reduced profitability, lower dividends, as well as planned job cuts as part of Telstra2022 and protracted bargaining negotiations with staff, the company is fighting against plans to vote down proposed executive remuneration.

“I personally believe that executive salaries are too high across the board, but changing this takes time and needs to be embraced by all of corporate Australia, not just one company or one industry, as the marketplace for talent is international and is industry agnostic,” Mullen said.

“We are trying to do our bit in Telstra, however, and this can be seen by the fact that David Thodey’s salary was lower than Sol Trujillo’s, Andy Penn’s salary is lower than David Thodey’s, and I expect that Andy’s eventual successor will receive a lower salary again.

“Andy himself has seen his actual remuneration drop by almost 50 percent over the last two years as the company has been under pressure, so we are not only reducing overall remuneration levels, but our remuneration clearly does flex downwards with shareholder outcomes, even when management has done a good job.”

Speaking last week, Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland argued that with the majority of NBN deployment in motion, the political debate must shift from its technological makeup to the future of its economics.

“The NBN rollout has also reached a point where it is almost entirely in design, construction, or deployed — a reality which cannot be undone through political will or legislative change,” Rowland said.

“As a result, there is likely to be less emphasis on the issues which have been the focal point for the last five years, and a greater focus on the medium-term policy settings — namely, the economics of the NBN.

“Looking forward, this becomes the main game … it would be sensible for the major parties to identify common ground on the next steps where feasible to do so.”

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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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