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 NBN brings Sky Muster II online, details remediation process and talks enterprise

NBN has announced that its Sky Muster II satellite is now fully operational and providing what it says are world-leading services in price per MB terms, as well as detailing the steps taken to fix the issues that have plagued it.

NBN has also gone into more detail about plans to provide an enterprise satellite offering, with chief customer officer John Simon looking to reassure the satellite industry that the firm will be augmenting, rather than carving into, existing markets.

Simon used the Australasian Satellite Forum to announce what he cast as a significant milestone for NBN; the firm currently has some 70,000 premises using Sky Muster services, of a total target of 240,000.

 “Despite the issues that we’ve had… we are still well on track to meeting our end of financial year goal of 80,000 homes and businesses connected with the Sky Muster services,” he said. “In support of that goal… as of a few weeks ago, I’m pleased to be able to say that after months of rigorous testing, the Sky Muster II – which was launched last October – is now fully operational [and] providing services to remote, regional and rural Australia, as is its sister satellite.”

Simon did not, however, shy away from the issues that have dogged Sky Muster. “Service interruptions and on-the-ground installation problems have been a source of frustration for consumers, and our RSP customers. We experienced enormous demand from regional Australia and some early implementation challenges, leading to these deployment and connection issues,” he said.

 “These were compounded because at the same time we were migrating the interim satellite service base of some 35,000 end users… [which] was a massive logistical undertaking, [although] we were able to complete interim satellite migration on time by 20 February.. indeed, at one point we reached 10,000 premises per month for connections to Sky Muster, which I understand is two and a half to three times the peak that had previously been reached on any other satellite rollout program.”

“So it was a brave undertaking… [and] we got there, but we took a few hits because we found the logistics and also the network performance we’d expected wasn’t quite there yet.”

To address these issues, Simon said that NBN had embarked on a “holistic improvement program” starting last September with delivery partners.

“We’ve deployed 147 network fixes and optimisation changes, and since then we’ve seen a 91% decrease in the fault rate occurring on the network as of April this year,” he said.

“The average weekly rate is now comparable with other access technologies and, in fact, global best practice…. we will continue and are optimising the network further to improve performance.”

“We’ve also overhauled the installation service; since launch, the average time from order to installation has steadily decreased, and the ‘right first time’ performance is above 90%. This has resulted in an enduser satisfaction score… of 8+ every week from order to install. Three or four months ago, that was 6.”

 CAPACITY: Simon also tackled the ongoing discussion around satellite data allowances.

“Sky Muster was first designed… to offer affordable broadband with higher data allowances at faster speeds. That was the key imperative… and we believe we’ve achieved that. Sky Muster endusers are now receiving between 3-5 times the speed and 4-6 times the data allowance for the same price they would have paid on previous satellite services,” he said.

“[But] there remains hot discussion amongst some endusers around data allowances. In 2015, we made the decision to repurpose the now-operational Sky Muster II, which had previously been intended to provide redundancy capacity only… to actively share the load, and that has meant we’ve been able to double the capacity available to Australians connecting to a retail service via NBN satellite. This has allowed us to bump up the data allowances and the fair use policy above the initial design, which allowed for far less than the current 37GB anytime usage.”

“Despite some negative chatter, we are finding that the average Sky Muster customer isn’t using the full data allowance… the median monthly usage as of February was 17GB, the average 24GB, and the average anytime usage policy supports up to 37GB. So many Australians could utilise up to 50% more than currently.”

 Simon asserted that the data allowances on Sky Muster were “equal to the best offered worldwide on any satellite services anywhere around the world,” citing Ovum research.

“In terms of data allowances and the price per gigabyte that endusers are paying, [Ovum] rates Australia as a leading satellite provider, up there with the best – and we’ve continued to improve on that. In addition to home services we are already offering larger data plans to RSPs for eligible schools, health clinics and Indigenous communities as well as not for profit organisations.”

BUSINESS: Finally, Simon revealed that NBN expected to have satellite products in place for business applications within a year, and was keeping an eye on nextgeneration 100Mbps satellite services which might be an asset for enterprise – albeit with an awareness of capacity limitations. However, he sought to soothe industry fears about competition from a government backed behemoth. “We’ve been asked by our shareholders… to provide commercial returns to Australian taxpayers. We don’t see our role as coming in and swapping out A for B; there is no value in attacking a market that’s already served,” he said.

“Our view, from the discussions we’ve had from a number of people that knock on our doors… wanting potential access to the satellite is that there is demand there for services that isn’t currently being fulfilled. I actually believe we can provide services to regional and rural enterprises and businesses and grow the market, grow the turnover and grow the services – it isn’t necessarily that we have to go in as a substitute. Far from it; our satellites have limited capacity and for us to go in and attack existing markets wouldn’t add a lot of value, because we can’t grow. It isn’t about that.”

He also told CommsDay that NBN would be able to service enterprises via satellite without compromising the consumer experience.

 “The fair use policy for endusers is really set by those beams that we consider ‘hot beams’, where there is the most takeup. The good thing about that is a lot of the business premises aren’t necessarily located under those hot beams, so we do actually have capacity that can be used that is technically idle and isn’t going to get soaked up by consumers,” he said.

“A lot of business services, also, are used during the day – which does not have the same usage periods. So I think we can grow the industry… without actively compromising or impacting consumer-based services.” Petroc Wilton, Commsday

 


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