PARIS — Australia’s national satellite broadband service continues to suffer regional outages seven months after its introduction, with a majority of users reporting installation or connection problems, according to a survey conducted by a national broadband association.
The Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) found that 86 percent of satellite customers on NBN Co.’s Sky Muster service reported one or more connection hiccups, with 20 percent reporting installation problems.
The Australian broadband plan is arguably the world’s most extensive and expensive, including fixed wireless, fiber and microwave links. The satellite service is assigned to users by their location based on service provider NBN’s assessment of areas where terrestrial links are not feasible.
Half of the BIRRR survey respondents said they use the Sky Muster satellite service mainly for business purposes. In a measure of how far off the grid these premises are, 42 percent said they have no other internet service beyond Sky Muster.
“We hope Sky Muster will become more reliable and that the so-called ‘teething problems’ that have plagued the last few months can be sorted quickly,” BIRR spokesperson Kristy Sparrow said in a statement accompanying the survey, published Nov. 2. “It is imperative that Sky Muster becomes much more reliable…. The outages and issues over the past few months have devastated some rural businesses and jeopardized children’s education.”
NBN: We understand the issues and will fix them
In response to SpaceNews inquiries, NBN on Nov. 30 issued a statement acknowledging the problems but insisting they were being addressed.
NBN “experienced some early connection and operational stability issues on the Sky Muster satellite service, with many of these remedied, and more than 47,000 end users on the service since launch seven months ago,” the NBN statement said.
“Additional operational improvements have been introduced, including software upgrades and dedicated call centre teams to assist with consumer queries. We have been receiving positive early feedback from our resellers on these measures.”
The satellite service is provided by two large Sky Muster Ka-band satellites, launched in September 2015 and last Oct. 5. Sky Muster 1 entered service in April. The two satellites have a combined 135 gigabits per second of throughput.
In its financial statements for the three months ending Sept. 30, NBN said its satellite service. BIRRR said NBN’s peak data plans average 55.5 gigabytes per month of download for 135 Australian dollars ($102).
The speed of the Sky Muster service, according to NBN, is 25 megabits per second for downloads, and 5 megabits per second upload.
NBN Chief Financial Officer Stephen Rue said satellite-derived revenue for the three months ending Sept. 30 was 3 million Australian dollars, flat from a year ago. The company has set ambitious coverage and revenue targets for 2020. Already some NBN customers have begun to speculate that the two Sky Muster satellites will be insufficient to mean the bandwidth demand of its rural customers in a few years.
BIRRR said some of the issues with the Sky Muster service were exacerbated by the slow responsiveness of the company’s call center, which the association said was incapable of delivering basic network status information so that subscribers could learn if the issues were specific to their premises, or part of a wider outage.
BIRRR expressed “cautious approval” that NBN appeared to be addressing the issues, but said the company should redraw its coverage map to extend fixed terrestrial wireless coverage for towns now with unsatisfactory DSL connectivity but slated to be assigned Sky Muster service.
BIRRR said an entire Sky Muster beam covering central western Queensland was “completely out” for a time, and that some customers reported service outages of more than 13 days — none of it reported by NBN or its regional service providers.