NBN Co gets ITU backing on satellite plans

NBN Co has said that its planned satellite launch is following the correct international procedures, providing a statement from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as proof.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co has said that its planned satellite launch is following the correct international procedures, providing a statement from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as proof.

On Monday, NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley said that the company is going through a process with the ITU to get approval for four orbital slots covering Australia from 135 degrees east, at 5-degree increments each for its satellite-broadband service that will deliver broadband to 4 of the 7 per cent of Australia not covered by the fibre roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Although the slots have not yet been approved, NBN Co has begun the design and construction of the $620 million satellites with Loral, on the basis that it will receive those orbital slots, with Quigley stating he expects the slot approval process to be completed prior to the satellite launches in 2015.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has questioned the amount of risk that NBN Co has taken by doing this, even though securing the slots is not certain. However, Quigley said that it is not the kind of risk that keeps him awake at night.

Following the hearing, NBN Co approached the ITU, which said it is not uncommon for a satellite company to purchase satellites before they are allocated slots.

"It is possible for a company to purchase a satellite in advance of it being put into use and the orbital slots being finalised," the ITU said, according to NBN Co.

NBN Co must notify the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to initialise the registration process with the ITU, and then resolve any compatibility issues with the operators of neighbouring satellites, the ITU said.

"So long as there are no regional objections, and the ITU registration process is underway, an operator can proceed with its launch plans."

To back itself up, NBN Co also provided statements from Optus' former chief technology officer Bill Hope, who has been consulted as an expert on the NBN satellite development. He said that Optus launched its own satellite several years before getting approval for slots, and that anyone who suggests that NBN Co is taking highly unusual risks "does not understand the process, or is being disingenuous".

Following his speech to the Communications Day 2012 Summit in Sydney this morning, Turnbull told journalists that this sort of information would have been better provided when he asked on Monday.

"It's a pity they couldn't provide an answer like that at the Senate inquiry. The criticisms that have been made of their approach have been made by other experts in the satellite industry," he said. "My role at the inquiry was to ask the questions, and try to find out exactly what the position was."

Turnbull said that whether this is a responsible risk is a matter for others in the satellite industry to decide, and that there has been some disagreement in the industry over the matter.

No need to end Telstra deal

Turnbull's speech to the telecommunications industry today broadly reflected on the past three years of the NBN roll-out, clocking the $1 billion network as only passing 5000 homes as yet, which equates to three premises per working day. To meet its new three-year plan, NBN Co must now step up the rate to 6000 premises per day.

He reiterated his previous statements that the Coalition's fibre-to-the-node approach would be cheaper and delivered faster.

"The Coalition's policy is, as you know, focused on achieving a comparable outcome (ubiquitous, very fast broadband), but achieving it sooner in terms of roll-out, cheaper in terms of cost to taxpayers and more affordably in terms of consumers," he said.

After his speech, Turnbull indicated to journalists that under his proposal, parts of the $11 billion Telstra agreement concerning payments to migrate customers onto the new network could be built in to an agreement to get access to the last mile of copper network from the node to the premise.

"I think the approach I've described would be manifestly in Telstra's interest. [Telstra] hasn't shown any anxiety about a change of government," he said. "If you roll it out sooner, the migration payments would be received sooner, and while the nominal value of those migration payments may be no different ... the net present value, which is what Telstra is focused on, will be greater, because it will be received sooner."

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