A SATELLITE designed to deliver high-speed internet services to 200,000 Australians in remote rural areas has been launched in South America.
A rocket carrying the National Broadband Network’s $500 million satellite, nicknamed Sky Muster was successfully launched in French Guyana overnight.
NBN said Sky Muster was designed to deliver broadband internet services to more than 200,000 rural and remote Australians, including outlying islands like Norfolk, Christmas, Macquarie and Cocos (see coverage map below).
Sky Muster will undergo several months of testing to make sure it is functioning correctly once it is in its orbital position above Australia. At this stage, NBN hopes to have the service available to remote area users during the second quarter next year, starting April.
The service is part of the Australian Government’s policy goal of ensuring all Australians have access to fast broadband as soon and as cost-effectively as possible.
“Access to fast broadband will help enable regional Australians to gain access to a range of services,” NBN’s general manager for new developments, Gavin Williams said.
“The key benefits include access to connected health and education services, benefits to agriculture, business and community sectors as well as entertainment.”
“However, after so long with access to limited broadband services, we can well understand that some people have questions about the new NBN satellite service, and may be sceptical about what the platform will ultimately be able to deliver when services launch in mid-2016,” he said.
“We want to make it quite clear that we intend the NBN satellite service to deliver the best access to satellite broadband services that has ever been experienced by regional and remote Australians. It may be slightly different in some ways to fixed-line broadband services offered over the NBN network, but it will still deliver a fantastic service.”
For the technically minded, the satellite is designed to deliver wholesale download speeds of up to 25Mbps – around five times what people are able to access on the ISS. The wholesale upload speeds are expected to be up to 5Mbps – equivalent to the wholesale speeds being taken by around 80 percent of current NBN subscribers through their preferred service providers across other NBN network technologies.
End to the ‘data drought’ says NFF
The National Farmers Federation welcomed the launch of Sky Muster, describing the project as a critical step in resolving the ‘data drought’ affecting some rural internet users.
“People have been appalled by the Interim Satellite Solution offered by the NBN, which has left families unable to send e-mails, access online learning or manage their finances online,” NFF’s Simon Talbot said.
“With the launch of the new dedicated satellite, we expect to see more farmers able to fully participate in the digital economy for the first time. Digitally enabling Australian farms is a critical step towards NFF’s vision for a $100 billion agriculture industry by 2030,” Mr Talbot said.
Using the latest technology, including cloud-based decision-support tools to analyse volumes of data, farmers and graziers had the chance to profoundly improve their yields and productivity.
Improved connectivity could also pave the way for new traceability technology, supporting a stronger ‘Brand Australia’ in export markets.
“Fast and reliable broadband is the key to unlocking these dormant productivity gains, which is why today’s launch is such an important milestone,” Mr Talbot said.
Excitement in the farming community would, however, be mixed with trepidation, as potential users waited to fully understand the services which the new satellite will deliver, he said.
“We understand that based on capacity constraints, we will see rural satellite users being subjected to lower download limits than those in metropolitan areas. Farmers will be keen to ensure that caps are reasonable, and don’t place a handbrake on business or education usage,” Mr Talbot said.
“We also await a clear plan from NBN as to how services will be upgraded as further capacity is needed. Analysis by the NFF indicates that planned capacity could be exhausted as quickly as 2020 if demand continues to increase.”
“Rural Australians deserve a plan which clarifies how the network outside the major cities will be augmented over time to meet their needs.”
NBN says the biggest difference between the new satellite service and NBN’s other fixed line-broadband services was the need to manage the finite capacity available on the new satellite system.
“On any of our fixed line broadband technologies, we can install extra capacity relatively easily – but once our satellites have launched, we cannot add any capacity to them. The only way we can get more capacity would be to build and launch another satellite – and that takes about five years,” a spokesman said.
NBN satellite would continue to employ a Fair Usage Policy, designed to make sure that all end-users got a fair go with their service, especially at peak-usage times.
“To that end, we expect that Retail Service Providers will offer a range of NBN satellite plans for end-users that will range from entry-level packages right through to packages with much larger data allowances to cater for heavier broadband users,” the spokesman said.
“While some important details of these plans are yet to be finalised for service launch, we expect them to be a significant step-up from the ISS.”
“As we have already seen with the huge success of services over our fixed-wireless network, amazing things can happen once you provide affordable and high quality connectivity to people who have previously been starved of it,” the spokesman said.
Beef Central will monitor the roll-out of the Sky Master service and will consider further website upgrades and enhancements, based on one of our site’s key limiting factors: slow internet access speeds for our many remote area users across the continent.