While city slickers argue about the NBN, rural retailers are smiling

Expanded wireless footprint eases satellite woes ... when there's no trees in the way


While debate continues in Australian cities about the technology employed to build Australia's national broadband network (NBN), a regional specialist reckons things are on the improve beyond the sandstone curtain.

Tony Bundrock, CEO of NBN satellite and wireless retail service provider (RSP) Activ8me, told Vulture South the network's rapidly-expanding wireless coverage is making itself felt in the regions.

The company building the network, nbnTM, “has added about a hundred thousand new premises to its wireless coverage in recent months”, Bundrock said.

Expanded fixed wireless coverage in the three eastern states and South Australia, he said, is letting RSPs like Activ8me shift customers away from satellite.

In light of the long-documented troubles experienced by users of the interim satellite service, that's an important change.

“The fixed wireless rollout is now having a big impact on many people previously on satellite,” Bundrock told us. “We're now migrating a lot of satellite customers to fixed wireless”.

So far, Activ8me has migrated more than 1,000 customers from the overloaded satellite service to fixed wireless.

Rural RSPs are also pleased by the decision – now in pilot – to lift the maximum speed on the fixed wireless network to 50 Mbps (after an earlier upgrade from 12 Mbps to 25 Mbps).

“We have some of our customers signed up as part of that pilot, and we can see them [nbnTMEl Reg] still tweaking the network”, he said.

The biggest two things that impact fixed wireless speed, Bundrock said, are trees obstructing a customer's line-of-sight; occasional instabilities in the network (which affect everyone, not just wireless users); and – since this is a pilot and its purpose is to test new kit as well as the service – variability in equipment.

The last is both rare and easy to deal with: “you replace the CPE”.

The satellite part of the network – meant to service the most remote users that were too far away even for a wireless link – proved wildly popular with its target market.

That, however, turned into one of the old NBN Co's early PR train wrecks: first, it capped the number of users retailers could sign up, the new government's review found the satellites needed extra budget, but because we're still waiting for the long-term birds to be lifted, the company this year capped downloads in an attempt to share the capacity more fairly. ®

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