NBN Co lost over 1200 active satellite customers between the start of December and early January, and 1772 customers since its active user base peaked at 112,600 in early September 2021.
The downward trend is captured in the company’s weekly progress reports, which also show that the company is approaching an active satellite user base level that is par with the first quarter of 2021 - about a year ago.
An NBN Co spokesperson told iTnews that the “small decline in Sky Muster active premises is largely seasonal” and that the end of Covid-related lockdowns also played a part in this year’s numbers.
“Historically, we see declines in incremental active premises growth in the Christmas and school holiday period,” the spokesperson said.
“This is typically followed by an increase as people start returning to work and school in mid-to-late January.
“This is again the case, with a trending up in the last couple of weeks that we expect will be reflected in our future weekly progress reports.
“The end of Covid lockdowns has also had an impact. We saw an increase in take up of the Sky Muster services as stay at home orders were put in place.
“Now that these have ended, there has been a small decline in demand as people began returning to school and workplaces.”
Previous “seasonal” declines have been much smaller in size - equivalent to a fraction of a percent of the active user base.
Over the 2020-21 new year period, for example, NBN Co experienced a brief reduction of 79 active satellite subscribers over a fortnight, before continuing to grow.
In the 2019-20 year end, the company saw a reduction of 453 subscribers.
The arrival of competitors such as Starlink may also be a contributing factor to this year's reduction.
While not yet available in all of Australia, Starlink’s early customers report speeds typically in the hundreds of megabits per second.
NBN Co said in November that it viewed low earth orbit (LEO) satellite operators like Starlink as competitors.
NBN Co’s spokesperson acknowledged the change in the competitive landscape but said the company continued to improve its Sky Muster services.
“NBN Co operates in a commercial environment and we are always working to evolve and invest in the network,” the spokesperson said.
“We are continually striving to enhance our Sky Muster satellite service product offering and to increase user utility and experience.
“One of the reasons that the NBN was established was to deliver virtually ubiquitous access to reliable, secure, high-speed broadband as quickly as possible and at least cost to taxpayers.
“Our priority is to offer the best possible commercially sustainable service that delivers secure, reliable broadband to customers wherever they live and work.”
The company is presently consulting with retail service providers on ways to further improve the Sky Muster Plus product, which unmeters traffic for certain types of web-based applications.
It is also unclear if any reduction in active Sky Muster users would be a cause for concern, given the satellite network is an unprofitable part of the NBN business, regardless of how many users it has.
The upgrade path for the satellite portion of the network remains unclear, although the company has previously flagged a number of possible options, including buying capacity from a LEO operator.