NBN Co plans wireless revamp, download speeds of up to 75Mbps on the agenda

New ‘Fixed Wireless Plus’ product expected to eventually support downloads of up to 75Mbps

NBN Co has released details of its plan to ditch one of its wireless wholesale speed tiers, replacing it with a new product that is expected to eventually support download speeds of up to 75 megabits per second (Mbps) in some circumstances.

The Fixed Wireless Plus product will launch in mid-2019 and initially support download speeds of up to 60Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps. (Although NBN Co cautions that the product “will provide the best available speeds the network can achieve at the time of use, but such available speeds will fluctuate during the day, and end users may receive speeds that are significantly less than the maximum potential network speed, particularly in the busy period.”)

The product will replace NBN Co’s existing 50/20Mbps bundled and legacy fixed wireless products. The existing 25/5Mbps and 12/1Mbps products will be retained.

As of the end of 30 September, 73 per cent of the company’s fixed wireless end users were on the 25/5Mbps wholesale speed tier, while  11 per cent were on the 50/20Mbps tier. The 12/1Mbps tier was the second-most-popular, at 16 per cent.

The trigger for the wireless revamp is a government push to ensure that spectrum that will be used to deliver 5G services, as well as the NBN fixed wireless service, is employed as efficiently as possible.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) recently completed auctioning off 125MHz of spectrum in the extended 3.6GHz band, with telcos preparing to launch their first 5G services using the spectrum.

In July, ahead of the auction beginning, communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield issued a direction to the ACMA instructing it to push existing 3.4GHz licensees and future 3.6GHz licensees to adopt a synchronised 6:2:2 frame configuration. The intention was to eliminate the need for so-called ‘guard bands’ to prevent interference. NBN Co uses spectrum in the 3.4GHz band to help deliver its wireless service.

“A synchronised frame configuration promotes the effective and efficient use of the spectrum because it manages the interference between different devices using the spectrum,” said an explanatory memorandum accompanying Fifield’s direction.

“The direction requires the ACMA to have regard to these benefits when considering imposing conditions on 3.4 GHz licences. Synchronised frame configurations allow licensees to deploy networks using standard ‘off the shelf’ equipment, and generally does not require guard bands or additional filtering to manage interference.”

The wholesale pricing for the new NBN product is $45 — the same as the company’s fixed-line 50/20Mbps bundled product. In August NBN Co was briefly embroiled in controversy over fixed wireless pricing after it revealed it had planned transitional pricing of $65 for its 50/20Mbps wireless service.

Fifield’s ministerial direction will take effect from 30 March 2020, at which point NBN Co expects to be able to increase the maximum download speed of the new wireless product to 75Mbps, while upload speeds will reach up to 10Mbps — with NBN Co indicating that it was keen to maximise download speeds to meet end user demand.

“The new wholesale Fixed Wireless Plus product is designed to reflect user demand with our insights showing people connected to the fixed wireless network are using their service with a ratio of 10:1 downloads compared to uploads,” said NBN Co’s chief customer officer, residential, Brad Whitcomb.

NBN Co had previously planned to launch a fixed wireless service supporting download speeds of up to 100Mbps, before deciding that it was not feasible. However, devices that are being rolled out to households in theory at least still support speeds up to that level.

Wireless performance

NBN Co today released statistics about the performance of its fixed wireless service as part of its monthly progress report.

In September, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission revealed that the network operator had signed a court-enforceable undertaking relating to a range of wholesale service standards. As part of that undertaking, NBN Co committed to releasing statistics about congestion on its fixed wireless network.

NBN Co said today that in November 96.2 per cent of its fixed wireless cells met its standard of being able to deliver at least 6 megabits per second to an end user during the peak usage period of 7pm to 11pm. The figure is an improvement on May, when only 94.5 per cent of cells met the standard.

NBN Co is undertaking an $800 million upgrade program to boost the performance of its fixed wireless network, with some 3300 cells upgraded in 2018 and another 200 expected to be upgraded before the end of December.

“We acknowledge there are some users are currently experiencing slower speeds than anticipated in the busy hour on the fixed wireless network and want to reassure people that we are working hard alongside the industry to improve network capacity,” Whitcomb said.

“With more than 3000 fixed wireless cells upgraded this year, NBN Co’s monthly progress report shows our network capacity program has been successful in reducing the number of cells which fall beneath our busy hour threshold; however, we do expect some fluctuation over the next few months as we scale up our efforts.”

Last month NBN Co revealed its plan to launch a new product on its Sky Muster satellite service. The ‘Sky Muster Plus’ product will support burst speeds above the base 25Mbps wholesale download maximum as well as unmetered downloads. The new product was made possible by a change in how the company manages its satellite service.

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