NBN launches new Sky Muster plans with more data

NBN's satellite service is now offering RSPs the chance to provide customers with double the data allowance, capped at 300GB per month separated into peak and off-peak usage.

(Image: NBN)

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has launched its new satellite packages, offering an increase in data allowances following criticisms of the service.

Consumers living within the satellite footprint covering regional and rural areas are now able to order peak and off-peak packages from their retail service providers (RSPs) with up to 300GB of data per month at speeds of 12/1Mbps or 25/5Mbps.

"Following the announcement of our new wholesale Sky Muster satellite service plans earlier in the year, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our retail customers, regional Australians, and industry stakeholders," NBN chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said on Wednesday.

"NBN has one of the world's leading satellite services, and we will continually look at ways we can optimise our wholesale pricing model and data plans."

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

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

Plans are separated into a peak period between 7am and 1am, and an off-peak period, with NBN also enforcing a Fair Use Policy that caps customers on their data usage. It 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," NBN CEO Bill Morrow said in June.

"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."

NBN had listened to feedback received by users and the industry, Morrow said, with the new plans a "step in the right direction".

"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," Morrow said.

Under NBN's Corporate Plan 2018-21, around 240,000 premises are able to order a satellite service although 400,000 will be eligible, with customers previously capped from using more than 150GB per month -- 75GB off peak and 75GB on peak, with 50GB extra for distance education students.

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.

"There's nothing that is sacred here. We are looking at anything and everything that might be feasible to offer more capacity," Morrow told Senate Estimates in June.

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

Australia's states and territories have similarly criticised the satellite service, with the South Australian government saying Sky Muster is a form of geographical-based discrimination; the Queensland government arguing that "lower-grade" NBN services for those in regional areas is unacceptable and inequitable; and the Northern Territory government slamming 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, these complaints are exacerbated by the lack of information on connectivity issues given by NBN to RSPs, which leaves customers at the mercy of NBN's 10-day turnaround.