Going wireless with the NBN

Wireless broadbandAmong the technologies being employed in the multi-technology mix rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN), fixed wireless and satellite are being used to deliver high-speed broadband access to rural and remote communities.

In its 2016 Corporate Plan, NBN Co stated that it expects its fixed wireless tower build to be largely completed by 2018, while the first of its two satellites, Sky Muster, was launched in October of last year. NBN expects that its satellite service will be available in the first half of 2016, with its second satellite set to be launched in the second half of the year.

The wireless technology being employed by NBN Co does, of course, differ markedly from other technologies being employed in the NBN rollout, with different methods of broadband transmission being employed and different speeds on offer. While a lot of the attention has focused on the fibre rollout, consumers living in areas covered by fixed wireless and satellite may be wondering how wireless NBN compares to other broadband technologies and what their options are.

Fixed wireless

According to NBN Co’s Corporate Plan, fixed wireless will account for five per cent of premises upon the scheduled completion of the NBN’s rollout in 2020, comprising 600,000 premises. Under the rollout, NBN Co is employing cellular technology in providing wholesale access speeds of up to 50 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, with internet service providers (ISPs) in turn offering a range of plans.

Fixed wireless uses a technology known as LTE (also known as 4G), with NBN Co explaining that it works via the transmission of signals “to and from a small antenna fixed on the outside of a home or business, which is pointed directly towards the NBN fixed wireless facility”. The antenna will be connected by a cable running through the wall to an NBN connection box located within the premises, NBN explains. NBN states that each of its fixed wireless facilities serves a set number of premises, with the bandwidth per household designed to be more consistent than mobile wireless.


NBN Co’s Corporate Plan shows that in 2020, satellite will account for three per cent of premises, comprising 400,000 premises. NBN Co explains how the satellite technology will work in delivering broadband to households and businesses via its website: “Satellite broadband is where a small antenna or dish is installed on the roof of a home or business in order to transmit and receive data from a satellite orbiting the Earth. The satellite then transmits the data back to a network of satellite ground stations – much larger satellite dishes – and these connect to the internet.”

The two NBN satellites will be supported by a network of 10 ground stations, each featuring two 13.5 metre satellite dishes, NBN Co explains, with the stations built in specific locations across Australia to maximise both the availability and capacity of the system. NBN Co will be providing wholesale satellite speeds of up to 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload.

Reaching hard-to-reach places

While fibre-to-the-premises and fibre-to-the-node, along with hybrid fibre coaxial, are making up the vast bulk of the NBN rollout, NBN Co states that fixed wireless and satellite will deliver high-speed broadband beyond the fixed line footprint.

Fixed wireless and satellite will not deliver speeds equivalent to the fixed line technologies being used, however will deliver a speed upgrade on existing internet technologies. While NBN Co is offering wholesale speeds of up to 100 Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload over NBN fibre, as already noted the maximum speeds currently on offer from fixed wireless are 50 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, and satellite 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload.

To put the sort of speeds on offer into context, NBN Co states its fixed wireless plans operating at 50 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds will be capable of:

  • Downloading a 10 minute lecture from YouTube in 12 seconds.
  • Downloading a 2 hour podcast in 3 minutes 12 seconds.
  • Downloading a 2 hour HD movie in 16 minutes.
  • Uploading a 2 GB document to the cloud in 13 minutes 20 seconds.

How to get connected?

To arrange for a fixed wireless or satellite broadband plan you will need to get in touch with your preferred internet service provider (ISP) to find out whether your premises is eligible before ordering your broadband plan. As explained by NBN Co, to be eligible for fixed wireless “customers’ premises must be within the NBN wireless coverage area and have a line of sight between the closest or most appropriate NBN fixed wireless base station”.

Customers will need to arrange for a technician to visit. As explained by ISP iiNet, an outdoor antenna on the roof of the customer’s premises will connect to a designated wall outlet for an indoor NBN connection box to plug into. iiNet makes the following recommendations as to where NBN equipment should be installed:

  • Within 1.5 metres of an electrical outlet.
  • In an office or study, or near any existing phone sockets.
  • A cool, dry and ventilated area with no sinks or water outlets.
  • Away from busy areas where it may be knocked or damaged.
  • A place where the equipment can be easily reached.
  • A place where you’re not planning any major renovations.

Customers will also need to check modem compatibility with their ISP, with some offering modems with their respective plans.

With regard to satellite broadband installation, as explained by NBN Co, a qualified technician will install a dish, typically on the user’s roof or wall, generally either 80 cm or 120 cm in diameter depending on the user’s location. NBN states that the receiver and transmitter is mounted on the dish, with two cables to be used to connect the dish to the user’s satellite modem, located inside the premises.

Keen to go wireless with the NBN?

As with NBN fibre plans, there are a range of fixed wireless plans, from data-light to data-heavy, on offer from a variety of ISPs at different price points. You should shop around for the best options, keeping in mind your likely usage and the potential for this to rise over time with the advent of new and more data-demanding media services, and the likelihood of a greater number of devices utilising online services in the coming years.

While you do not have the same range of speed options as available under NBN fibre plans, you should determine your likely requirements working within the boundaries of the speed tiers on offer from respective ISPs. Users should also bear in mind factors such as how long the plans being offered run for (from no contract plans to 12 and 24-month plans), to how much it will cost to change or to cancel plans if required.

As NBN satellite plans haven’t yet launched (NBN Co recently held its first demonstration of the service), customers in satellite areas will need to wait until mid-year. NBN Co recently advised that it plans to launch end-user trials to around 200 premises in regional Victoria, conducting further testing of the service ahead of its full commercial launch.

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