NBN satellite service installation process an 'absolute bugbear': RSP

As the biggest NBN satellite RSP, Activ8me is bearing the brunt of consumer complaints about delays in connections and third-party installers not turning up.

Retail service provider (RSP) Activ8me has said the company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) is seeing "teething problems" with installing satellite services for users, resulting in a skyrocketing number of complaints from consumers.

Activ8me, which so far provides the highest number of NBN satellite services -- at 10,000 customers connected -- as well as fixed-wireless and fibre services, said it still has a backlog of 24,000 premises waiting to connect.

"We are currently experiencing an enormous lift in the number of complaints, and they're all around Sky Muster," Activ8me general manager Ian Roberts said at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) 2016 conference in Sydney on Thursday morning.

"There are all sorts of teething problems associated with Sky Muster, and the installation process is an absolute bugbear."

As a result of the rise in complaints, Roberts said Activ8me has tripled the size of its call centre, as well as closing its offshore call centres in favour of having all support staff in Melbourne in order to better deal with the issues.

Despite this, Activ8me customers are still waiting between three and four hours to reach call centre staff -- and the telco can rarely help its customers resolve their issues because they are usually related to the installation process, which is carried out by third-party subcontractors.

"The issues are so far removed from things that we can control as an RSP, because the NBN do all of the installs, and they sub-contract that to Ericsson, who then sub-contract that to Skybridge, and that communication about that installation process is done by those third parties," he said.

"[But] the first point of call for the customer when the install fails or the installer doesn't turn up, or things don't work, is to come back to us, and they might be things that we can't resolve."

NBN has repeatedly faced complaints from customers about delays in being connected and installers not showing up for appointments.

NBN told ZDNet that it is working on dealing with the satellite-connection teething issues.

"Since launching our Sky Muster service in April, NBN has already connected around 30,000 premises in rural and remote Australia to our world-class satellite broadband service," an NBN representative told ZDNet.

"We are constantly working with RSPs and our delivery partners to fine tune our installation process and get end users connected to the Sky Muster service as quickly as we can and with the least possible disruption."

For its own part, Activ8me is attempting to improve communication with its customers, and is making use of social media to keep customers informed and aware of any problems.

"The NBN are doing a fabulous job in terms of rolling out 9,000 satellite installs a month, which is enormous in a country the size of Australia, and the teething problems are just there, and it's going to take six months to actually get over all of those teething problems," Roberts concluded.

The first of NBN's two new AU$620 million Ka-band satellites, named Sky Muster, was launched from French Guiana in October, with commercial services becoming available in April to provide high-speed broadband for those not living within the FttX, hybrid fibre-coaxial, and fixed-wireless NBN network footprint via the projection of 101 spot beams.

According to NBN's recently released 2017 Corporate Plan, satellite and fixed wireless will collectively cover 8 percent of the population, or 1 million premises.

While 400,000 premises are eligible to order a satellite service, NBN foresees only 200,000 to 250,000 will actually take up the system. Were all 400,000 eligible households to order the satellite service, the "fair use" policy would prevent speeds slowing substantially, however.

The fair use policy will impose a cap on each IP address' usage at 150GB per month maximum in order to prevent capacity from being outstripped by demand again.

In December, NBN had announced an increase in data allowances for customers on its satellite service, upping its offering to 150GB per month plus 50GB extra for distance education students, having freed up satellite capacity by moving 40,000 premises to its fixed-wireless or fixed-line networks.

During 200 end-user trials of the satellite service, users attained speeds of up to 25/5Mbps, which NBN said amounted to being four times faster than existing satellite services, as well as allowing between three and six times more data.

NBN plans to launch Sky Muster II in October.

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