NBN puts would-be backup Sky Muster satellite into service

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WASHINGTON — Australia’s state-owned National Broadband Network company has placed a satellite originally meant to be a spare into service to keep pace with ramping user demand, and says it has solved around 80 percent of the service issues that have plagued its satellite system since early 2016.

In a statement released May 1, NBN said Sky Muster 2, the second in an identical pair of Ka-band high-throughput satellites from manufacturer Space Systems Loral, is sharing the traffic load originally kept on Sky Muster 1, following several months of on-orbit testing. The twin satellites are connecting more than 70,000 households, about half of which previously relied on interim satellite services NBN provided through Thaicom’s Ipstar satellite.

NBN uses satellite to bring connectivity to rural parts of Australia that are mostly out of reach via terrestrial alternatives. Tasked with connecting 8 million homes and businesses by 2020, NBN relies principally on fiber, using satellite for the remaining 3 percent of the population.

Since launching satellite service through the first Sky Muster satellite in April 2016, NBN satellite customers reported multiple outages, with the Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) citing connection issues among 86 percent of users, and installation problems among 20 percent.

NBN Chief Customer Officer John Simon said in a statement that the company has “overhauled the installation process” for satellite connectivity, and has received markedly positive feedback since then.

“Over the last 6 months we have been working with our partners to successfully complete a performance improvement plan that covered everything from modems in the home through to core network systems. This program has delivered a more stable and better performing service with the weekly incident rate down by 80 percent to achieve industry best practice levels,” he said.

Sky Muster 1 launched in October 2015, followed by Sky Muster 2 a year later in October 2016, both using Ariane 5 rockets from Arianespace. NBN expects the satellites, equipped with 101 spot beams each, will reach more than 200,000 homes and businesses across the country. In April, NBN said 2 million homes and businesses were connected through its infrastructure, terrestrial and satellite, and another 4.5 million had means to request the service.