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NBN plans new satellite services, aims to boost wireless uptake

NBN fixed wireless and satellite GM Gavin Williams has revealed that the firm is contemplating new specialised satellite products to help remote communities after its first long-term satellite is launched. And meanwhile, with the fixed wireless rollout halfway to completion, Williams’ sights are firmly set on boosting takeup rate to NBN’s 50% target.

“Beyond a standard broadband service to a home... we will do more exciting things to focus on particular applications,” Williams told the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network in Sydney. “One area that’s quite exciting is the potential for this technology to do a much better job of serving kids who are learning at home through distance learning, and we’re working on a concept with the Department of Education, and groups like the Isolated Children’s Parents Association… on utilisation of a second dedicated port on the network device in the home that can be allocated to distance education applications, supporting a direct link to an education department to support videoconferencing, lesson streaming and utilisation of allowances distinct from anything else the family might use.”

Williams also said NBN was looking at satellite applications to support broadband in indigenous communities.

“I won’t profess that it’s an idea from the NBN; we’ve listened to groups like Broadband for the Bush and the Indigenous Remote Communications Association, where we’ve heard loud and clear and you can see it when you go out there – that you question the fit -for-purpose nature of a communication delivery to a home compared to a community solution that would enable community members, for example, to use their handheld mobile devices to get access to the internet,” he said.

“I’m totally on-board, and NBN’s totally on-board, to supporting that kind of model with the long term satellite service,” continued Williams. “We’re actually piloting now, in a number of communities in the remote Northern Territory, such an application. The first [pilot] went online only a couple of weeks ago... there’s a retail service provider involved and it’s funded by a charity organisation... partnering also with the Northern Territory Library, which has allowed us to connect the service into its building, providing a secure piece of real estate with electricity. That’s then plugged into a hotspot, allowing people around the library to use their phones to do whatever they will on the internet.”

WIRELESS UPTAKE: On the fixed wireless front, Williams noted that NBN had now covered almost 300,000 homes and businesses – half of its target – and in fact was just coming out of the peak rollout rate. However, he added that just over 60,000 of those homes and businesses were now connected, for a penetration rate of about 22%; well short of NBN’s 50% target.

“It’s not as bad as it seems, because much of this footprint has just been released. But... it could be much better,” said Williams, noting a need for NBN to raise awareness around the service – despite a number of challenges such as poor return-to-sender rates for mailouts, and mixed success with local advertising.
Petroc Wilton, Commsday