NBN Co seeks solid satellite speeds

Possible bandwidth to become clearer under interim solution

NBN Co intends to clarify the speeds attainable via satellite under the National Broadband Network (NBN) once the interim solution goes live in July this year.

The service was initially described as providing speeds of “at least” 12 megabits per second (Mbps) when the network was first announced and even in the wholesaler’s three-year corporate plan released in December last year. Recent wording from the company, however, suggests speeds are more likely peak at that figure, mirroring promises made by the opposition during the election campaign last year.

The NBN wholesaler has nonetheless left the door open to providing faster speeds over satellite in future.

NBN Co’s product manager of satellite, Oliver Stacey, confirmed the 12Mbps speed could only be attained on an uncontended or lightly contended satellite service.

“We’re trying to benchmark what the probability of achieving 12Mbps at any one time is going to be,” he said. “As we go through the development process, we’ve come up with some guidelines of ‘you’ll be able to get 12Mbps at X per cent of the time’.”

Initial guidelines are expected to be based on the Federal Government’s $324 million Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG), which will end in June ahead of NBN Co’s interim service.

According to Stacey, current ABG guidelines indicate users would be able to receive 65 per cent of the peak speed 85 per cent of the time, an objective the company intends to continue. Those speeds will be provided by two Ka-band satellites which NBN Co plans to launch by 2015 at a total cost of about $1 billion.

The satellites offer bandwidth of 80 gigabytes per second (Gbps) each and will be used in tandem to provide the peak speeds of 12Mbps to the roughly 400,000 premises not covered by fixed wireless or fibre services under the NBN.

Stacey said satellite technology would likely evolve two or three times ahead of NBN Co’s current plans, allowing for higher bandwidth plans in the future.

“If the technology enables it, then obviously we’ll put that into the product plan,” he said. “We know [12Mbps] is a do-able number, that’s been given to us by the vendors.”

He refused, however, to comment on whether it would be possible to provide the higher speeds at the same pricing offered to fixed wireless and fibre users; a pledge made to independent MPs by the Federal Government this week to push relevant legislation through Parliament.

The interim satellite service is expected to deliver significantly lower speeds of 6Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream, mirroring the premium satellite service announced by Optus in August last year. To be launched by July on an IPSTAR platform, the service will be offered to about 33,000 premises over two years, following the same qualification criteria used under the ABG.

The interim service will also become the basis on which NBN Co finalises the geographic extent of the fixed wireless rollout and satellite availability. Stacey said the company expected to provide satellite services to some premises within designated fibre and wireless areas.

“While it may be a designated wireless service area, geographically the line of sight or some obstruction or topology issue negates the ability to receive a wireless service, in which case you’d probably qualify for a satellite service,” he said.

Stacey fronted a forum of satellite operators, vendors and service providers this week as part of an attempt to better communicate with the industry ahead of key decisions expected to be made this year.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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