Among 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 internet access to rural and remote communities of Australia.
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 2015, with its second satellite set to be launched in the second half of 2016.
The wireless technology being employed by NBN Co does, of course, differ markedly from the 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 understandably 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.
What is wireless NBN?
Wireless NBN is basically the alternate NBN connections that do not use the fibre network currently rolling out across the country. Simply put, it’s like a permanent data connection you’d get with your mobile phone, but for your home. It’s especially useful for homes unable to get access to the fibre network, or for those in remote areas. There are two main types of wireless NBN:
- Fixed wireless
Let’s see with a bit more detail what these two alternate forms of NBN can mean for you.
According to NBN Co’s Corporate Plan, fixed wireless will account for just 5% 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 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.
- The house or building is basically a large 4G network
- Up to 50 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload
- Individual devices then connect as normal to the in-house network
- This results in a more stable connection, as opposed to mobile wireless that can be spotty and inconsistent
Named the ‘SkyMuster’, NBN’s satellite service is designed for use in regional and remote areas of Australia. NBN Co’s Corporate Plan shows that in 2020, satellite will account for 3% of NBN connected premises, comprising 400,000 premises. A small antenna or dish is installed on the building to send and receive data from the orbiting satellite. It works as many satellites do – the satellite transmits data back to ground stations (large dishes) – and in turn you get internet goodness.
- There are two NBN satellites with 10 ground stations
- These ground stations then feature two 13.5m satellite dishes
- The stations are located strategically to cover mainland Australia, Tasmania and other particular locations: Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Lord Howe Island and the Cocos Islands
- Satellite NBN will yield 25Mbps download speeds, and 5Mbps uploads
Satellite speeds obviously lack compared to traditional NBN and fixed wireless, but the speeds are still fantastic compared to what many remote regions were receiving before NBN. Currently, NBN Co has been using the Interim Satellite Service (ISS) as a stop-gap. The ISS will shut off once SkyMuster debuts on February 28, 2017. It’s an exciting time for cat videos – especially for regional and remote regions who may have felt like they’ve been left behind thus far.
What’s good about NBN fixed wireless?
There are two glaring benefits with NBN’s wireless services:
- Ability to reach remote places
- Improved speeds across the board
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 majority 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 they 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, the maximum speeds currently on offer for wireless service are:
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
These two factors in tandem will afford those living remotely or regionally better access to the internet.
How do I connect to an NBN wireless service?
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 their home. As explained by 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. Service provider 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 are mounted on the dish, with two cables to be used to connect the dish to the user’s satellite modem, located inside the premises.
Which providers offer wireless NBN?
There are a handful of providers offering either satellite or fixed wireless plans. Generally, expect these plans – compared to NBN fibre – to offer less data and less overall value, but that’s the price to pay for such a new technology. We suspect for those living rurally, having a stable connection is invaluable.
NBN Satellite Plans
Three providers stand out as offering some tech-forward satellite plans. Keep an eye out for providers such as iiNet, Harbour ISP and Activ8me. As you can see, prices are currently quite expensive for the amount of data you get. However, for those in remote locations, having a stable connection is better than nothing. Keep an eye out for NBN specialist Skymesh, as well.
NBN Fixed Wireless Plans
A much more expansive network than what’s on offer with satellite broadband delivery, fixed wireless plans are often such good value that they are exactly the same as their regular NBN fibre counterparts. Fixed wireless operates on the NBN’s different speed tiers, and you can expect prices to increase as you jump into a faster plan.
In general, you can expect to get 100GB of data for less than $50 a month at this speed tier. Keep an eye out for providers such as Exetel, Internode and Southern Phone. Familiar face Activ8me is also up there with a generous 250GB data.
For the first step into what can be considered ‘Superfast’ NBN, these 25/5 plans cost on average $10 a month or so more than their 12/1 equivalents. This brings us to 100GB for about $60 a month. As usual, keep an eye out for providers like Exetel, internode, Activ8me and Southern Phone. As usual Activ8me offers some good data for a nice price.
A significant step up in terms of speeds also brings a significant step up in price. Expect prices to increase another $25-$30-odd. The main kicker is that you’ll now most likely be on unlimited data. Keep an eye out for providers such as AusBBS – that has both a 200GB and unlimited plan – Tangerine Telecom and Boom Broadband. Be prepared to budget around $100 a month as a whole though.
The most unfaltering in terms of speed, expect to pay a pretty penny at this speed tier. Currently, it seems the only provider to offer at least 1000GB at this speed tier is Tangerine Telecom. Prices range from just under $100 a month, up to $120. This is based on how many call inclusions you’ll get. Line rental is included, and you’ll be paying on a no-contract basis, which is handy.
Is wireless NBN good value for money?
Wireless NBN is a great premise, but those in metro areas likely won’t find much use out of it because:
- They have a range of other broadband plans on offer
- They don’t qualify for it anyway i.e. they aren’t in a regional area
Wireless NBN has a promising future, but in its infancy there are a few setbacks. The main drawback is the price inequality compared to other broadband types. It’s a new technology, so it’s naturally more expensive by the gigabyte. The other main drawback is speed – NBN Co promises 100Mbps download speeds with its fastest fibre plans, and you can achieve this on fixed wireless plans, but not on satellite plans. While this is great considering the method of delivery, the reality is you might be able to find faster plans for the same or less money if you do have access to fibre NBN.
While you do not have the same range of speed options as available under NBN fibre plans, you should first determine your budget. This will then determine how much data you will get. While NBN currently is not exactly a ‘value’ option, this is only further exacerbated by the wireless plans.
Skymuster launched in January 2017, and has had a limited release so your home may not be covered… yet. 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.
The wait times for wireless NBN in combination with prices mean you should shop around for the best options across all broadband types. You’ll need to keep 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, the likelihood of a larger plan in the future may make it necessary to future-proof your broadband connection.