JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Government, NBN Co 'pondering' satellite issue

Date

Ben Grubb

Zoom in on this story. Explore all there is to know.

NBN Co plans to launch in 2015 two satellites (illustrated) that will provide extra capacity.

NBN Co plans to launch in 2015 two satellites (illustrated) that will provide extra capacity. Illustration: NBN CO

NBN Co, the company charged with building Australia's national broadband network, is considering how to maximise the efficiency of the network's interim satellite, which is likely to reach capacity in the new year.

The government-owned enterprise is also planning how to upgrade 48,000 users who will eventually need to have their satellite receiver equipment replaced. The change will take place when the users migrate from the interim satellite to NBN Co's long-term satellite, set to be launched within two years.

Satellite beams on the interim satellite covering Victoria and Tasmania have already reached capacity. Beams covering NSW and Queensland are also close to capacity, while those covering central and western Australia have some space left.

The satellite service was an interim one made available in 2011 by NBN Co under the Labor government and managed by Optus. It was designed to help cover the 3 per cent of Australians who would not have access to the Labor government's planned fibre or fixed-wireless broadband network.

But NBN Co has enough space for only 48,000 customers on the interim satellite and has already connected 42,044 premises, figures released last week show.

To deal with the shortfall, the Labor government previously committed to spending $620 million for NBN Co to launch two new long-term satellites in mid-2015. These will have capacity for 200,000 customers and will offer download speeds of up to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 5 Mbps.

NBN Co's head of satellite, Matt Dawson, who spoke at CommsDay's NBN: Rebooted conference in Sydney on Tuesday, said he always expected the interim satellite to fill up quickly.

"We believe that the beams will fill up one by one where we'll reach a point where we'll eventually have to cease sale … going into the new year," Mr Dawson said.

"But this, of course, amplifies why we need the long-term solution. And that, of course, is where the focus is on trying to deliver the long-term solution as quickly - and as on time - as we can."

Migration of tens of thousands

Mr Dawson said NBN Co was figuring out how to migrate tens of thousands of users over from the interim satellite to the long-term one post mid-2015.

"None of that [existing equipment] will be able to [be used with] the long-term solution," Mr Dawson said. "All of that will need to be replaced with the new Ka-band [satellite] equipment.'' 

Technicians from retail service providers would decommission the Ku-band [consumer-premises equipment] and install a Ka-band dish, he said.

A Ka-band dish was "slightly smaller" and would be "a lot quicker and easier to install". 

The cost of replacing equipment was built into NBN Co's corporate plan and he anticipated it would take 12 to 18 months to migrate 48,000 customers.

What to do now 'under consideration'

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, through a spokesman, said that the matter of what to do — given capacity had almost been reached on the satellite — between now and mid-2015 was "under consideration".

Asked by Fairfax Media what NBN Co was doing to address the capacity issue, Mr Dawson said NBN Co was working with the market to "examine and analyse" the options.

Mr Dawson said the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, was "well aware" of the issue.

"They're also pondering whether or not to extend the service," Mr Dawson said. "That's all I can really say. I can't pre-empt the outcome of that other than to say that it is being looked at."

Extra interim capacity available: Optus

Optus' director of Satellite Services, Paul Sheridan, who was also at the CommsDay conference, said there was additional capacity on the satellite which could be made avaialble to NBN Co.

But other considerations would affect planning.

"You've got to take into consideration, when will the long-term satellite solution be available, how do you transition from the interim to the [long-term] satellite? As a long-term satellite company, we look to engaging in sorting out the answers to these questions,'' he said.

Speed degradation

Mr Dawson said the speed of the service provided to customers had been degrading as users began to make full use of bandwidth. 

At launch in 2011, the interim satellite offered peak download speeds of 6 megabits per second, Mr Dawson said. He said Australian satellite users were previously used to 1Mbps download speeds.

But users of the interim satellite were "starting to experience some contention issues", he said.

"People now are able to do video streaming and do Youtubes and Skyping and those sorts of things and that has placed a huge demand on the network," Mr Dawson said.

"So it's a positive feedback thing where people who previously hadn't had access to broadband are now enjoying that facility … but it always did have some capacity limitations."

iiNet withdraws

On Tuesday, ISP iiNet, one of Australia's largest broadband retailers, said it would not sign up any new customers to NBN Co's satellite services because the capacity problems were slowing broadband speeds to "be almost unusable". It has called on other re-sellers to do the same.

To address the speed degradation issue, Mr Dawson said, the company had imposed a "fair use" policy on service providers.

Asked whether NBN Co would prioritise and put customers on its long-term satellites in mid-2015 who weren't able to access the interim satellite now, Mr Dawson said NBN Co was "going to try and design the migration plan in the most efficient way", but didn't comment on priority.

With Lucy Battersby

7 comments so far

  • How can there be a problem?
    Turnbull assured us that there was ample existing satellite bandwidth already available and that the two NBNco satellites were a completely un-necessary, expensive white elephant.

    Commenter
    Goresh
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    November 20, 2013, 3:47AM
    • I"m an existing NBN satellite user. It's great and I'm grateful for the NBN Co and Labor Government which enabled this technology.

      I can foresee a period of some confusion and frustration when the system transits from the interim satellites to the long term ones. To try to replace existing roof-top installations with new equipment under circumstances where customers are pressing to be first-in-line will cause rushed (and botched) work, stresses amongst installers and higher prices as demand will outstrip supply and installation contracts require short deadlines.

      Is it not (technically) possible to install the new antennae in advance over an orderly period of time without panic and unreasonable pressures ? Have the antennae up and ready to switch over BEFORE the new satellites come on stream. I can imagine some problem might exist with fine tuning the antenna direction but owner-operated tuning devices already exist and might even be improved upon.

      I realize that in this current age companies avoid spending effort in advance of a likely problem but in this case where the problems are inevitable it would be operationally and financially so easy to do.

      Commenter
      TonyJ
      Location
      Thumb Creek
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 7:59AM
      • There are at least a few problems with your proposed transition approach of installing the Ka receiving equipment prior to the new satellites providing service. Firstly, given that different receiving equipment is required, installing it prior to the Ka service being available would mean that the existing Ku receiving equipment would have to be retained until the new service is available, at which point another site visit would be required to decommission the old equipment. Secondly, there's no guarantee that a customer will still be using the satellite service in 2015, so it wouldn't be sensible to install the new equipment until the service is available.

        The approach proposed in the last paragraph of prioritising installation of the long-term satellites service for customers who weren't able to access the interim satellite sounds like a good approach to me, subject to maximising efficiency by for example replacing the interim satellite equipment for nearby customers.

        Commenter
        Honey Badger
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 20, 2013, 11:51AM
    • The new satellites will also be geo-synchronous. The laws of physics dictate that data takes a certain loooongish time to get from earth to a satellite at that distance and back, which means the latency is baaaad.

      So anyone used to ADSL or 3G broadband will be disappointed. Skype for example, over geo-sync satellite is like an international phone call from the 80's. Even web browsing is a bit painful.

      Why NBN Co didn't explore LEO satellite options better, only McKinsey knows.

      I suppose there is always a need for some satellite in the mix as a worst case scenario. But for 40,000 customers?

      I suspect a lot of these people are on satellite right now simply because NBN fixed wireless is currently AWOL across a lot of the country (eg west of Wagga Wagga), and if/when NBN Co finally rolls out more fixed wireless, people will move from satellite to terrestrial wireless.

      In any case, NBN Co should be rolling out fixed wireless as a high priority, and increasing the planned fixed wireless footprint to reduce demand for satellite. And incorporating existing 3G networks into its network, to improve these with better backhaul etc (as they are congested at peak times).

      Those steps would markedly improve life for many rural/regional users, in a way that geo-sync satellite never will.

      Commenter
      Jason
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 8:19AM
      • Excellent points Jason,

        I'm no expert but never understood why the wireless rollout didn't focus on deploying 4G mobile technology (possibly using the unsold 700MHz spectrum which is perfect for long distances) which would simultaneously improve broadband and mobile services.

        The current approach of deployed fixed wireless does nothing to address mobile reception issues in many regional and rural areas and requires another direction aerial to be installed every time a new household is built, not to mention ongoing maintenance to ensure that the high-frequency signal isn't attenuated by branches etc.

        Commenter
        Honey Badger
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 20, 2013, 11:58AM
    • Part of the reason that some satellite service is required is that some local councils and some people have fought against the installation of fixed-wireless equipment in the hope of getting fibre.

      Commenter
      boyo
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 11:31AM
      • Honey Badger. I acknowledge there may be tech questions to be answered. However, your difficulty re commissioning a new antenna is simple to answer. You pull out the old plug and insert the new one !

        Commenter
        TonyJ
        Location
        Thumb Creek
        Date and time
        November 20, 2013, 3:20PM

        Make a comment

        You are logged in as [Logout]

        All information entered below may be published.

        Error: Please enter your screen name.

        Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

        Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

        Error: Please enter your comment.

        Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

        Post to

        You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

        Thank you

        Your comment has been submitted for approval.

        Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

        Advertisement
        Featured advertisers
        Advertisement