NBN testing short-term satellite connections for disaster recovery

Government-owned wholesaler to work with emergency services organisations for test locations.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
Image: NBN

The company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) around Australia is looking to test satellite-based connectivity at emergency evacuation centres.

A spokesperson for the company told ZDNet that the number of test locations has yet to be determined with emergency services organisations, but the service dubbed Disaster Service is expected to be deployed in response to a need from emergency services.

Since the start of the year, NBN has set up free Wi-Fi hotspots from its Road Muster trucks as well as installed satellite dishes for its Sky Muster service at evacuation locations in New South Wales and Victoria. When an evacuation centre closes, so does NBN's free connectivity.

The company is currently offering its free services at 23 locations presently.

"To help co-ordinate the industry response to the bushfire crisis, NBN Co has invited Expressions of Interest from retail service providers that wish to partner with NBN Co in testing the rapid deployment and subsequent activation of the NBN Disaster Service based upon temporary services delivered via the Sky Muster Satellites," the spokesperson said.

"The installation of these satellite services is intended to facilitate the delivery of connectivity for affected communities in circumstances where existing terrestrial connectivity is lost or inoperative due to power loss or bushfire-related damage to infrastructure."

NBN said for each test site, the installation of a satellite dish, Wi-Fi router, and uninterruptable power supply is needed.

"The NBN Disaster Service testing is expected to be available for a period of approximately of six months (unless withdrawn or terminated earlier). Individual test services at specific locations may only be operational for short periods during the test period," the spokesperson added.

In a document issued on Friday, NBN said it was approached to develop the interim service.

Last month, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced the Australian Communications and Media Authority would conduct an industry-wide review into the impact of Australia's summer of bushfires on the nation's telco networks, and how the industry handled the situation.

It was also announced that the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association would work towards getting information on where "critical mobile infrastructure" is situated within the hands of emergency coordination agencies, and the Comms Alliance would set out to create a "national common operating model for telecommunications disaster management" that would allow telcos and state agencies to work better together.

It was proposed that telcos could get access to emergency fuel stores for the purpose of providing generators with backup power during emergencies, as well as getting telcos information on power availability to know where best to deploy generators, and to clear a higher amount of bush from around mobile towers and transmission facilities.

"Most network outages following the bushfires have been due to loss of power, not due to direct bushfire damage to network facilities," Fletcher said.

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