NBN considers throttling 'extreme' fixed-wireless users

NBN users who cause congestion on the fixed-wireless network by downloading terabytes of data each month could be throttled under a Fair Use policy, CEO Bill Morrow has said.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Fixed-wireless users of the National Broadband Network (NBN) could be subjected to a Fair Use policy capping their download allowances, CEO Bill Morrow has said.

Speaking to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network on Monday afternoon, Morrow said the company is not yet at the point of imposing such a policy, but that "grooming" or traffic shaping could happen across "extreme" or "super" users.

"Our average consumption across the NBN network is just under 200 gigabytes per month, and when you look at the fixed-wireless network it's substantially less than that, so these aren't as heavy of users; however, in the fixed-wireless there's a large portion that are using terabytes of data," the outgoing CEO explained.

"One of the things that we're evaluating ... [is] a form of Fair Use policy to say we would groom these extreme users ... the grooming could be that during the busy period of the day, when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they are taking down whatever everybody else is taking down, and during the non-congested or busy periods, they're free to go for as much data as they want to pull down."

According to Morrow, there's enough extreme usage happening that there would be a "substantial lift" in peak speeds for other fixed-wireless users if NBN did groom the super users, which he described as being "gamers predominantly".

"On the fixed-wireless, what we have seen is a greater level of concurrency, so the number of people using it at the exact same time is greater than ever seen before on a wireless network anywhere that we have data from around the world. In addition to that, we have seen the take-up occur sooner than we originally estimated," he added as a factor causing congestion on the network.

Morrow further claimed that the 100Mbps fixed-wireless product was always more aimed at businesses than residential users, arguing that it was killed off because it could cost AU$1 billion to offer, due to requiring additional towers, backhaul, and spectrum.

"At the time that we announced this product, we were looking at it mostly as a business-related product that would try use the capacity that is in the non-busy period of the day," he said.

"But as we saw this continued focus on concurrency and the number of people that use it at the same time, this keen interest in video streaming ... we're now trying to preserve as good an experience as we can provide. The idea of introducing a 100-meg product for a few that could cost those mass-market residential users a bit of experience issues, we decided that we should pull that from the product development at least for now and give the best possible experience for the majority.

"In order to provide the experience with concurrency going up, we have to invest more into the network and it's money that we don't have ... if you wanted to double the capacity of that minimum level of where we are, it would at least be a billion dollars."

Morrow also spoke to the committee on how NBN is improving the fixed-wireless cells that are providing users with speeds of just 3Mbps in peak times.

"We had to be quite innovative about how we're going to relieve some of the congestion ... we took basically profit away from the company, which is modest to begin with, and applied that profit towards the fixed-wireless area, to spend enough to move that minimum of 3 megabits up to a minimum of 6 megabits," he said.

"The number of cells that we have experiencing 6 megabits per second or less is now less than 6 percent, and 3 megabits ... that's less than about 0.4 percent of the cells.

"We don't have the money to invest in this to take it above 6 megabits per second, but we feel that at least is an improvement from where it is, given this uneconomical area to serve and the user-pays business model that we have."

NBN had last week revealed in response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice that it is targeting fixed-wireless congestion at priority cells where speeds are less than 3Mbps during peak periods, with nine towers targeted at the end of November.

As of April, cell remediation had been completed in Marian North, Millthorpe, and Woolgoolga, while Clunes North was due to be complete by April 2018. NBN is aiming to complete remediation in Bees Creek, Humpty Doo, Howard Springs, and Worrolong by July and Smythesdale by August.

In regards to NBN's other regional network offering, Morrow on Monday said NBN is continuing to monitor developments in satellite technology "in case we ever have to put up a third satellite". However, he conceded that there is no money allocated in NBN's business case for a third satellite.

Morrow also explained to the Senate committee how NBN has been making adjustments to its current end-user satellite tech to combat service interruptions caused by weather.

"One of the things we realised was that if an antenna or a dish that's on top of a roof ... if the wind's blowing it around and it moves just a little bit depending on parameters that are set, it will actually go through a search and seek to reposition itself to then lock onto that satellite signal, and that is a time-consuming process that will leave that home or that premises out of service until it locks back on," Morrow explained.

"We've actually changed the parameters to say, 'don't do a search and seek back for the satellite again, just hold your position for a longer period of time', and that meant weather was far less impacting customer dropout and outage.

"There's inherent physics that present challenges to satellite-based services; the frequency band to which we use it puts it up there in an area that is more susceptible to rain fade than what you see in other satellite solutions."

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