NBN satellite users waiting five weeks to connect, experiencing outages: Morrow

Due to greater than expected demand, satellite customers are having to wait an average of five weeks to be connected and are experiencing 'multiple' network failures, NBN CEO Bill Morrow has said.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has revealed that it is seeing greater demand for its satellite service than planned, with customers waiting an average of five weeks to be connected and experiencing multiple hours-long outages.

"While we have heard many stories of people having a great experience, there have also been some problems. These issues include having to wait on average five weeks between an order and the installation; 30 percent missed completions on the scheduled day of the install; and, once installed, the last few months have seen the network fail multiple times, leaving the end user out of service for an average of one to two hours," NBN CEO Bill Morrow said during Senate Estimates on Tuesday evening.

Morrow said NBN now knows the causes behind each of the issues and is working on repairing them.

"NBN is taking these issues very seriously, and is doing everything we can to make the satellite service as stable and reliable as all our other technologies. We know what the root causes are, have initiatives under way that are fixing them, and are working with our partners to be sure we communicate well with the end users.

"We have already seen an substantial improvement, but still have more work to do ... the demand is greater than what was planned, and as we load up the network, we can see the initial cracks in the system come through."

There are now 34,000 end users connected to the satellite service, Morrow said, with NBN confident that the satellite connectivity issues are "temporary and not systemic".

Earlier this month, NBN confirmed that an issue with connecting users to Sky Muster, caused by a software upgrade that "didn't go to plan", had been resolved.

"The experience with Sky Muster I for people in regional Australia has been overwhelmingly good [but] there was an issue about a week back in relation to the software upgrade, which didn't go entirely according to plan," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said at the time.

"Those issues have been resolved and there will be a fresh software upgrade."

NBN chief network engineer Peter Ryan added that NBN has taken steps to ensuring the issue does not occur again.

Retail service provider (RSP) Activ8me last month also complained that it is seeing "teething problems" with installing NBN's satellite services, calling the installation process an "absolute bugbear" and saying it has resulted in a skyrocketing number of complaints from consumers.

Activ8me, which so far provides the highest number of NBN satellite services -- 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 in September.

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

NBN told ZDNet it was 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 at the time.

"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."

Despite demand already being greater than expected, Ryan earlier this month said NBN is certain of its usage estimation that only 200,000 to 250,000 premises will sign up for a satellite service out of the 400,000 premises eligible.

Ryan added that NBN has beam-management technology it can use to help ease the load so speeds will "never" slow down significantly during periods of high usage.

"Firstly, we're fairly confident of our estimates of that take-up rate; and secondly, it's something that we monitor very, very closely," Ryan told ZDNet.

"Thirdly, let's say that we have a number of tools, a number of solutions, to be able to continue to relieve load on various beams within the satellite, which is part of our normal management of capacity on the beams within the satellite.

"By using these various technologies, we will balance the load and never get into a negative situation."

Morrow on Tuesday said that Sky Muster II, launched at the start of this month after a 24-hour rocket-launch delay due to "high-altitude wind direction", is now in its testing phase.

"It has now extended its arrays, and is well positioned in its orbital slot," he said.

"Beam testing will continue over the coming months before it joins Sky Muster I in serving active users across Australia."

The first of NBN's two new AU$620 million Ka-band satellites 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.

The satellite offers download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of 5Mbps.

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