Regional Australia is set to get a broadband boost, with the Australian Government and NBN Co together allocating a hefty $750 million in funding to improve NBN’s fixed wireless services.
In addition to a $480 million cash injection from the Government, NBN Co will also invest $270 million of its own into fixed wireless, with the funds expected to give existing infrastructure a 5G-enabled upgrade. According to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, the planned upgrades will expand NBN Co’s wireless footprint by up to 50%, and give 120,000 homes in rural areas access to fixed wireless in addition to Sky Muster satellite.
With rurally-located Australians often frustrated by underperforming fixed wireless and satellite NBN plans, the investment is well overdue. It’s also an indication that the launch of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite service has NBN Co nervous, as many homes in regional areas look to NBN alternatives for faster, more reliable broadband.
NBN Co promises faster speeds, better coverage for regional Australia
NBN Co announced the full investment details today, stating that the network overhaul is expected take around two and half years to roll out once the planning process is complete. The $750 million in upgrades are slated to deliver four major benefits to regional Australians, including:
- Enhancing coverage and range for existing NBN fixed wireless towers, including providing wireless access to homes and business currently only eligible for satellite services
- Improving fixed wireless wholesale speeds, including potential wholesale download speeds of up to 100Mbps or even 250Mbps (up from current maximum of 75Mbps)
- Improving typical evening speeds for fixed wireless services, allowing customers to achieve busy hour download speeds of at least 50Mbps
- Increasing data limits for NBN Sky Muster Plus customers, including offering unmetered data use from 12am-4pm daily, and increasing monthly data allowances on standard Sky Muster plans from 55GB to 90GB
In short: the investment will expand wireless coverage, rev up existing download speeds, and give satellite customers more monthly data for their money. It’s huge plus for regional homes and businesses, with a large percentage of Australians outside metro areas now relying on fast broadband for work, school, and to connect with family.
5G looks set to be a key step in pumping up fixed wireless services, and NBN Co plans to use the next-generation mobile technology to extend its wireless internet speed, range, and capacity. The company will 5G-enable more than 2,200 fixed wireless sites and 22,000 cells across Australia, giving customers faster speeds and lower latency, and opening up more economic and social opportunities for rural Aussies.
“Access to fast and reliable broadband plays a vital role in the lives of people across Australia and is critical for the nation’s economy – and 5G will be core to enhancing and accelerating our NBN fixed wireless capability,” said Gavin Williams, NBN Chief Development Officer for Regional and Remote.
“For households across regional Australia faster speeds will make it easier to work remotely, access digital services as well as connect with loved ones and access entertainment. For businesses, faster speeds will enhance and expand participation in the global digital economy and benefit from innovative technology such as the Internet of Things and smart farming.”
Read more: What is 5G? Australia’s 5G network explained
Compare satellite NBN plans
The following table shows selected published NBN Satellite plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see fixed-line plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.
|Brand||Features||Max Data**/billing period||Advertised Cost^^/billing period|
min. cost $44.95 over one month
|175GB||$44.95||Go To Site|
min. cost $64.99 over one month
|250GB||$64.99||Go to Site|
Sky Muster Plus
min. cost $69.95 for first month
min. cost $94.95 over one month
|250GB||$94.95||Go To Site|
min. cost $130 for one month billing period
|200GB||$130||Go To Site|
min. cost $3,240 over 24 month billing period
|View all NBN plans listed on Canstar Blue||**^^View important information|
NBN vs Starlink: will funding fight off Elon Musk?
For a huge chunk of Australians in regional locations, NBN availability is currently limited to Sky Muster satellite or fixed wireless. Outside of NBN options, some rural customers are turning to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service for faster speeds: according to network testing firm Ookla’s latest report, the median download speed for Starlink in Q4 of 2021 was 141.55 Mbps, which well outstrips the speeds offered to NBN customers on satellite or wireless plans.
While Starlink is fast, it’s also expensive, and seems to have an extended waiting list. A Starlink setup kit currently costs $924 upfront, plus $115 in shipping, with unlimited data service priced at an additional $139 per month. It’s also hard to pin down details on when and where Starlink will be available in regional areas.
Starlink could soon be facing competition in the satellite space, as Telstra has now announced a partnership with UK company OneWeb to offer low-Earth orbit satellite internet in Australia. If the telco giant does launch its own fast, low-latency satellite broadband service, it’s another boon for regional customers who currently have little choice when it comes to home internet.
Although Sky Muster doesn’t boast the average download speeds of Starlink, it’s still easily the more affordable option for customers who don’t have access to fixed line or fixed wireless services. With the confirmation of a massive quarter-billion investment in regional NBN, it’s clear that NBN Co and the Australian Government are looking to fight off the challenge issued by Starlink – and give rural customers a reason to stick with the NBN.