Optus Satellite announces NBN Sky Muster service

Optus Satellite is partnering with Sky Muster RSP Southern Phone to offer 'dual experience and regional focus' for NBN customers living in regional Australia.

Optus Satellite has announced that it will be offering National Broadband Network (NBN) Sky Muster services to regional Australia through a partnership with NBN satellite retail service provider (RSP) Southern Phone.

Optus said it will provide its customer service offering to its Southern Phone NBN customers, while the latter RSP will provide sales and marketing support. Southern Phone has a call centre based in regional Australia.

"This new partnership will help us connect with even more regional customers, and importantly make sure that those customers are able to have the same level of support that a customer in a metro area would," Optus Satellite VP Paul Sheridan said.

"We see this service as a viable and effective alternative to a traditional NBN connection. For some consumers, this will be the first time they've been able to connect to a broadband service."

Both companies are hoping to improve their NBN market share through the deal, with Optus saying it will now be able to capture more regional customers.

"With only 80,000 of the NBN's forecast of 240,000 Sky Muster satellite services connected to date, we look forward to offering our services across the country and making a real difference to the people in regional and rural Australia," Southern Phone MD David Joss said.

Southern Phone currently offers six NBN satellite plans: AU$40 per month for a 60GB monthly download allowance -- 20GB during peak times of between 7am and 1am, and 40GB during off-peak -- AU$45 for 40GB peak and 80GB off-peak; AU$55 for 60GB peak and 120GB off-peak; AU$80 for 80GB peak and 160GB off-peak; AU$95 for 100GB peak and 200GB off-peak; and AU$130 for 150GB peak and 150GB off-peak.

All plans are on the 12/1Mbps speed tier, but customers can pay an extra AU$5 per month to be upgraded to speeds of 25/5Mbps. Customers are permitted to change their plan once per month without being charged.

The broadband service will slow to a maximum of 128Kbps/128Kbps once customers reach their monthly data allowances.

NBN last week launched new satellite packages, with RSPs now able to offer customers up to 300GB of data per month. Prior to this, customers were capped from using more than 150GB per month -- 75GB off peak and 75GB on peak, with 50GB extra for distance education students.

NBN had announced in June that it would be doubling the monthly wholesale data limit available to its satellite RSPs -- which along with Southern Phone include iiNet, Activ8me, BorderNet, Clear Networks, Harbour ISP, SkyMesh, Ant Communications, IPSTAR, ReachNet, and Westnet -- as well as increasing "average peak download" limits on satellite plans by up to 50 percent, from 30GB to 45GB per month.

NBN is currently investigating additional education and business enhancements for its satellite service, including an "education multicast product" and an enterprise-standard wholesale product.

"We will continue to optimise the pricing model and data plans of the Sky Muster service with further offerings on business and education services expected to be available in the next 12 to 18 months," NBN CEO Bill Morrow said in June.

NBN said it was able to boost its download limits through efficiencies allowing the service to cope with more capacity.

"Late last year, we made the decision to repurpose our second satellite, previously slated as a dormant backup service, to actively share the load in delivering more data to customers on the Sky Muster service," Morrow explained.

"After spending the last year reviewing and testing the capabilities of the service, we are now comfortable that we have the capacity to offer increased data packages to retailers."

Under NBN's Corporate Plan 2018-21, around 240,000 premises are able to order a satellite service, although 400,000 will be eligible.

In August, Morrow told ZDNet that NBN is also looking into deploying a third satellite, piggybacking off existing satellites, and building out additional fixed-wireless towers in order to relieve congestion.

"We're looking at anything and everything that might be an option to expand the capacity and the speeds for the people served by the satellite technology," Morrow told ZDNet.

"We are looking at new satellites to go up, we are looking at the use of third-party satellites, we are looking at some micro-deployments of fixed-wireless towers that might be able to offer some relief, we're looking at layer three-type services that help use of that spectrum more efficiently for video applications as an example, so everything is on the table for consideration."

A decision on this is a year away, Morrow told ZDNet, with NBN also looking into improving the tech on its existing two satellites.

Sky Muster has been subject to widespread criticism, with the federal opposition party calling for an independent expert review of the satellite it commissioned itself, saying the installation issues, data caps, outages, and lack of transparency between NBN and its RSPs need to be examined.

The South Australian government similarly said Sky Muster is a form of geographical-based discrimination; the Queensland government argued "lower-grade" NBN services for those in regional areas is unacceptable and inequitable; and the Northern Territory government slammed the "technically inferior" satellite service.

In January, NBN revealed that there had been 31,007 reschedules of Sky Muster service installations between April 2016 until October, caused mainly by technician issues, customer issues, weather, network issues, and non-standard installations, with Activ8me calling the installation process an "absolute bugbear".

The average closure time for complaints was 21.4 days during October last year, with 520 complaints between April and October.

According to Clear Networks, complaints are exacerbated by the lack of information on connectivity issues given by NBN to RSPs, which it said leaves customers at the mercy of NBN's 10-day turnaround.


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