NBN launches second satellite Sky Muster II

After a 24-hour delay from poor weather, NBN's second satellite has been launched to provide the Australian population living in regional and remote areas with high-speed broadband.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has launched its second satellite as part of the long-term satellite solution to provide high-speed broadband for those living in rural and remote areas.

The satellite, named Sky Muster II and weighing 6,405kg, was launched from French Guiana on Thursday morning, entering orbit at 7.30am AEDT.

It was originally slated to be launched on Wednesday morning, but was delayed due to "high-altitude wind direction".

"Today's successful launch of Sky Muster II completes the final chapter in delivering our world-leading satellite broadband service," said NBN CEO Bill Morrow.

"This service is already helping to improve healthcare outcomes by connecting remote patients to city specialists, delivering access to a new world of educational opportunities for kids in the bush, and increasing productivity for farmers by helping them run more efficient businesses.

"We are ensuring that no Australian gets left behind by providing access to fast broadband for those who need it the most."

The first of NBN's two new AU$620 million Ka-band satellites, named Sky Muster, was launched a year ago, with commercial services becoming available in April to provide broadband via the projection of 101 spot beams for those not living within the fibre, hybrid fibre-coaxial, and fixed-wireless NBN network footprint.

According to NBN's recently released 2017 Corporate Plan, satellite and fixed wireless will collectively cover 8 percent of the population, or 1 million premises.

While 400,000 premises are eligible to order a satellite service, NBN said last year that it foresees only 200,000 to 250,000 will actually take up the system. Were all 400,000 eligible households to order the satellite service, the "fair use" policy would prevent speeds slowing substantially.

The fair use policy will impose a cap on each IP address' usage at 150GB per month maximum in order to prevent capacity from being outstripped by demand again.

In December, NBN had announced an increase in data allowances for customers on its satellite service, upping its offering to 150GB per month plus 50GB extra for distance education students, having freed up satellite capacity by moving 40,000 premises to its fixed-wireless or fixed-line networks.

During 200 end-user trials of the satellite service, users attained speeds of up to 25/5Mbps, which NBN said amounted to being four times faster than existing satellite services, as well as allowing between three and six times more data.

NBN's largest satellite retail service provider (RSP) Activ8me last month complained, however, that NBN is seeing "teething problems" with installing satellite services for users, resulting in a skyrocketing number of complaints from consumers.

Activ8me, which so far provides the highest number of NBN satellite services -- at 10,000 customers connected as of last month -- as well as fixed-wireless and fibre services, said it still has a backlog of 24,000 premises waiting to connect.

"We are currently experiencing an enormous lift in the number of complaints, and they're all around Sky Muster," Activ8me general manager Ian Roberts said.

"There are all sorts of teething problems associated with Sky Muster, and the installation process is an absolute bugbear."

The telco can rarely help its customers resolve their issues, because they are usually related to the installation process that is carried out by third-party subcontractors.

"The issues are so far removed from things that we can control as an RSP, because the NBN do all of the installs, and they sub-contract that to Ericsson, who then sub-contract that to Skybridge, and that communication about that installation process is done by those third parties," Roberts said.

"[But] the first point of call for the customer when the install fails or the installer doesn't turn up, or things don't work, is to come back to us, and they might be things that we can't resolve."

NBN told ZDNet that it is working on dealing with the satellite-connection teething issues.

"Since launching our Sky Muster service in April, NBN has already connected around 30,000 premises in rural and remote Australia to our world-class satellite broadband service," an NBN representative told ZDNet.

"We are constantly working with RSPs and our delivery partners to fine tune our installation process and get end users connected to the Sky Muster service as quickly as we can and with the least possible disruption."

For its own part, Activ8me is attempting to improve communication with its customers, and is making use of social media to keep customers informed and aware of any problems.

"The NBN are doing a fabulous job in terms of rolling out 9,000 satellite installs a month, which is enormous in a country the size of Australia, and the teething problems are just there, and it's going to take six months to actually get over all of those teething problems," Roberts concluded.

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