NBN Co readies interim rural satellite solution

Satellite solutions will improve on ABG standards while network wholesaler launches new Ka-band alternatives

National Broadband Network (NBN) wholesaler, NBN Co, is readying the release of interim satellite solutions for rural Australian communities ahead of launching two permanent, Ka-band satellites for the network.

The interim services are unlikely to deliver the 12 megabits per second (Mbps) committed speeds promised under the proposed network, but will improve on the satellite services currently available under the Government’s Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) program, which subsidises satellite internet access at speeds between 256 kilobits per second (Kbps) or 1Mbps.

NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, revealed the new plan at the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Charles Todd Oration event when asked why rural communities hadn’t been served before urban areas in the network’s rollout.

“It’s a matter of policy in terms of what is the government’s view of where should we be attacking first,” he said. “There are some straight physical limitations; we’re working hard on an interim satellite solution will potentially use more of the capacity that’s up there on the existing satellites, because it takes some time to launch new satellites and to provide the sorts of services, the sorts of download capacities, the sorts of throughput capacities - not just speeds - that we believe people in rural and remote communities deserve.”

(See Mike Quigley's full speech to the ACS)

The proposal for an interim solution has already been approved by Government and NBN Co expects to release proposals and tenders shortly, though Quigley would not reveal if there were any preferred suppliers.

Several satellite operators already exist in Australia, largely reselling services from satellites run by Optus, many of which transmit over inferior Ku-band frequencies.

Those eligible under the government's Australian Broadband Guarantee program currently have access to internet services ranging in speed from 256Kbps to 1Mbps at prices of between $19.95 and $165 on the Optus satellite network.

The new solution could also come as good news to satellite operator Newsat, which has recently campaigned for offerings under the NBN. The company’s chief executive, Adrian Ballintine, told Computerworld Australia that its Jabiru-1 satellite could deliver broadband speeds of “better than” 100Mbps to the seven per cent of Australia not covered by the NBN’s fibre network and for an equivalent cost.

“Our [Jabiru satellite] is 60 or 70 per cent full already, but we could tweak it and make some accommodations or we could use another one of the slots we have and launch another, smaller satellite," he said.

“We want to say to the government: Don’t spend a cent of taxpayers’ money, just work on the basis that this is the customer base you want fixed, we will do the work. We will fix it, we will fund it, we will pay for it, we will launch it, and we will provide it.”

Under the network proposal, NBN Co will launch two new Ka-band satellites - one of which is used for resiliency - to deliver speeds of 12Mbps to the three per cent of Australians, or 200,000 premises, not covered by fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) or fixed wireless technologies. The company expects to spend about $1 billion on the satellites.

“We’re going to be trying to provide substantial improvements with an interim satellite solution and we’re gong to be trying to put a wireless trial as fast as we can,” he told attendees at the ACS event.

Quigley used his speech at the ACS to demonstrate “why it’s better to invest $27 billion rather than spend $6 billion” by comparing and contrasting the physical capabilities and limitations of different internet access methods, including copper, hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) wireless, satellite and fibre. The speech has led some to question Quigley’s political allegiances in his public appearances, while Liberal member for Bradfield and key party broadband figure, Paul Fletcher, has accused the company chief of contravening caretaker conventions.

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