As climate change bites, NBN is looking to preinstall satellite links at evacuation centres

NBN CEO Stephen Rue has said the climate is going to get worse and it is a serious focus for the company.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

In contrast to its political masters, the Australian government-owned broadband wholesaler has said it is taking the threat of climate change seriously.

Speaking to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) on Friday, NBN CEO Stephen Rue said the company sees its satellite coverage as being very helpful in the future.

"We are very conscious that these climatic conditions are likely to continue and indeed to get worse, and we're conscious that as a network we need to test our resiliency, make sure that we have a network that can either recover quickly or is backed up in some way," Rue told the committee conducting an inquiry into the business case for the NBN and the experiences of small businesses.

Rue added that following the black summer of 2019-20, which burnt a great deal of the continent, NBN has started working with former AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, who is tasked with establishing the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

NBN chief development officer for regional and remote Gavin Williams told the committee that the NBN is looking to preinstall satellite connectivity at future potential evacuation centres.

"We saw the efficacy of satellite service in being able to connect disaster centres and we see an opportunity to work with local communities to pre-populate evacuation centres, to enable communities to have access to comms in those times," he said.

"I think this certainly is an opportunity to pre-think so that communities don't have even days to wait without comms."

Williams added that the NBN is also looking into solar power for its fixed-wireless towers.

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Beyond bushfires, the company is also assessing how its network responds to flooding events and other natural disasters. Responding to Telstra's decision this week to pause its sale of 100Mbps speed plans on copper-based technologies, Rue said fibre to the curb could provide 100Mbps in the "vast majority of cases".

"I have to temper that with, there are issues that some people have within their home with their home wiring ... and also the other thing that we really would like to educate the community on is Wi-Fi, whereby that if you have a Wi-Fi system set up that for whatever reason doesn't disperse appropriately," he said.

"And that's got nothing to do with the NBN network. Our fibre-to-the-curb technology was engineered to provide 100 megabits per second minimum at a layer 2 rate."

Earlier this month, NBN said it had already begun testing short-term satellite connections at emergency evacuation centres.

A spokesperson for the company told ZDNet that the number of test locations had yet to be determined with emergency services organisations, but the service dubbed Disaster Service is expected to be deployed in response to a need from emergency services.

Image: NBN

Since the start of the year, NBN has set up free Wi-Fi hotspots from its Road Muster trucks, as well as installed satellite dishes for its Sky Muster service at evacuation locations in New South Wales and Victoria. When an evacuation centre closes, so does NBN's free connectivity.

In January, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced the Australian Communications and Media Authority would conduct an industry-wide review into the impact of Australia's summer of bushfires on the nation's telco networks and how the industry handled the situation.

It was also announced that the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association would work towards getting information on where "critical mobile infrastructure" is situated within the hands of emergency coordination agencies, and the Comms Alliance would set out to create a "national common operating model for telecommunications disaster management" that would allow telcos and state agencies to work better together.

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