NBN Co says big boosts coming for some wireless subscribers

NBN Co has announced that, starting in October 2017, subscribers to its Sky Muster satellite services in regional and remote Australia could see a doubling of their data allowances, during both peak and off-peak hours.

Currently, Sky Muster satellite NBN plans top out a maximum of 150GB a month for individuals and businesses, only 75GB of which can be used up during peak hours (between 7am and 1am). Under the new scheme, which also includes a drop in wholesale pricing for RSPs (Retail Service Providers), these limits will be increased to 300GB and 150GB respectively. 

Although NBN Co says it expects that the new data limits should be passed on to end-users at a similar cost to their current plans, the company can’t directly control the prices of the plans that the RSPs choose to provide so this is ultimately up to the RSP.

Apparently these larger capacities come in response to feedback from rural industry groups and communities and are due to increased efficiencies and the repurposing of its second satellite — initially intended as a ‘dormant backup service’ — to share the burden of data delivery.

Sky's the limit

The Sky Muster satellite system – which is a ‘last mile’ technology that differs from fixed-wireless NBN — was met with doubt and caution when it was first announced and has continuously attracted criticism from the Labor party, who cite technical issues, low data caps, and a lack of transparency as key issues with the service’s rollout. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull even suggested these Ka-band satellites were unnecessary while he was the Shadow Communications Minister, but now supports them as a ‘world-class’ solution. 

While the South Australian Government has advised that Sky Muster satellites should only be used as a last resort and that to do otherwise would be a form of discrimination, Shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones claims that “many more customers in outer metropolitan areas and outer regional centres are now finding themselves being allocated to Sky Muster”.

Despite this negative reception, NBN Co has said it has responded to feedback and is heading in the right direction with optimising the pricing models and data usage. The company may consider a number of solutions, as CEO Bill Morrow has stated they will “look at a third satellite to see if it’s feasible, or other satellites that are third party […] that we can leverage to get more capacity. We will look at getting some other towers to relieve congestion.”

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