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NBN to trial satellite multicast shortly

NBN will soon enter the initial phases of delivering multicast services over its Sky Muster satellite service in a move that could greatly improve education services in remote areas.

The national network builder has been publicly discussing its satellite multicasting plans since at least July 2015 when NBN wireless and satellite chief Gavin Williams revealed them at the federal Isolated Children’s Parents Association conference in Brisbane.

An NBN spokesman told CommsDay that the company was now finally in a position to conduct trials to take place in the near-term. “NBN has been working closely with state and territory departments of education, and the ICPA, on Managed Education Services over Sky Muster, including a multicast capability. We plan to undertake a multicast trial in the near future,” the spokesman said.

CommsDay understands that the trials could proceed as soon as within the next two weeks and that NBN aborted a previous plan to start conducting trials last November — a time when the network builder was struggling with a torrent of complaints from consumers and RSPs concerning Sky Muster’s poor reliability.

One source in the remote education industry who asked to remain anonymous said that Sky Muster’s shortcomings and reliability problems stemmed from engineering problems caused by limiting NBN satellite to Layer 2 bitstream access in line with NBN’s establishing legislation. Effectively, the service must appear the same as any other NBN technology from the RSP’s perspective.

“It’s very hard to make satellite work well with Layer-2,” the source said, referring to methods such as packet spoofing and pre-caching which can overcome latency problems.

The source said that the lack of multicast capability had been a source of great frustration for education providers but that the problem was only being touched on in high-level discussions it held with government education departments.

Multicasting greatly reduces the bandwidth needed to deliver video services over networks. It allows content to be delivered to multiple users efficiently by pushing it as close to them as possible using a single stream before dividing into multiple streams for the final leg to their premises.

In the interim, NBN has reserved a special “education-port allowance” which gives services to homes consuming remote educations an extra 5GB of download allowance over and above the company’s satellite fair use policy. Andrew Colley, Commsday