NBN Co 'contemplates' path to 100Mbps-plus business satellite services

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NBN Co 'contemplates' path to 100Mbps-plus business satellite services

Says it is exploring new equipment.

NBN Co is “contemplating” new equipment for its business satellite service that could allow it to offer speeds of above 100Mbps.

“Currently we have equipment that maxes out south of 100Mbps,” chief development officer for regional and remote Gavin Williams told a TelSoc event on Wednesday. 

“Our Sky Muster Plus service we sell as a 25Mbps-plus service, it can burst up to 50[Mbps] down and 10[Mbps] up. 

“New equipment that we’re contemplating for our business satellite service might be able to take us beyond 100Mbps. 

“That remains to be seen, but there are opportunities that we continue to keep in view.”

Williams said that with the business satellite service the only business offering outside the fixed-line footprint, the company constantly “reflected on how we can best support businesses in that footprint”.

Business satellite services are currently advertised by retail service providers (RSPs) as topping out at 50/13Mbps.

Williams said that NBN Co’s Sky Muster “birds” - satellites - had a nominal lifespan of 15 years. 

With five years already down, the company had about 10 years left, though Williams noted “our partner who flies those ‘birds’ does a pretty good job of conserving fuel, so we might get a few more years left.”

What it does as that end-of-life approaches remains unclear, and the company anticipates technology advancements could ultimately sway its future choices.

“We’ll just need to look at what rational tech decisions are closer to the time,” Williams said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty. 

“Even GEO [geosynchronous equatorial orbit] technologies have massively evolved since we signed the purchase order [for Sky Muster]: configurable beams, terabit per second satellites. 

“There’s going to be a lot to consider over time.”

NBN Co has also previously raised the prospect of not putting more satellites of its own into orbit, and instead looking to buy into - or from - a low earth orbit constellation to power the next generation of its Sky Muster service.

While Williams did not doubt Elon Musk’s ability to stand up Starlink, he noted there were uncertainties around the LEO model.

“It can be a game changer [for NBN Co] but there’s a few things they’ve got to get right,” Williams said.

“You’ve got to look at the full picture. The vertically integrated model that is currently being trialled out of Starlink is very different to an NBN kind of model.

“It’s a DIY install, 24 month warranty on the gear, not provided through traditional telco channels. That may well change. 

“I always think that there’s three key things those constellations need to get right. They’ve got to get a volume of birds in the sky, which they seem to be doing; they’ve got to be experts in their regulatory regimes to get access to spectrum in the jurisdictions in which they operate; and they’ve got to invent cost-effective flat panel antennas. 

“They seem to be cracking those pretty well, albeit our assessment is that the antenna systems for these trials is massively subsidised, which is quite understandable.”

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