NBN Co faces calls to expand fixed wireless network

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NBN Co faces calls to expand fixed wireless network

NBN Co is being urged to make “holistic upgrades” to its fixed wireless network, including to extend the reach of the network into areas currently mapped for Sky Muster.

The recommendation is the latest regional telecommunications review [pdf], a process that is undertaken every three years.

At the heart of its NBN-related findings is a desire to see rural and remote users benefit from billions of dollars of upgrades that NBN Co is making to its fixed-line network.

While some of these upgrades are occurring in areas classified as “regional”, they largely skip the fixed wireless and satellite portions of the NBN.

That did not sit well with the review committee, which argued "more should be done to ensure existing digital divides between urban, regional, and rural and remote areas are not compounded.”

“While the fixed-line NBN services available in urban areas and regional centres are set to benefit from significant network investment in the near future, users outside of the fixed-line footprint who currently receive baseline services through satellite and fixed wireless are in danger of being left behind without similar investments,” the committee said.

“Without similar investments across the fixed wireless and Sky Muster networks, the approximately 27 percent of regional, rural and remote Australians who use these services will be limited to peak download and upload speeds which are far lower than those available to the majority of other users.”

The committee recommended that NBN Co “consider holistic technology upgrades to the fixed wireless network in particular, including exploring methods to make more bandwidth available to users and to extend the reach of the fixed wireless footprint to allow as many Sky Muster users as possible to access faster network speeds.”

“NBN Co [should] re-evaluate opportunities to transition certain Sky Muster mapped areas, particularly those with ADSL connectivity and already adjacent to the fixed line or fixed wireless footprints, to other technologies which better meet their performance expectations and needs,” the committee said.

“The committee further recommends that NBN Co provides greater value on the Sky Muster satellite product by enhancing peak and offpeak times and data allocations and promoting the availability of Sky Muster Plus to users.”

Sky Muster Plus unmeters a large number of traffic types for users. 

The review committee comprised former Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker, Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) co-founder Kristy Sparrow, as well as Sue Middleton, Hugh Bradlow and Michael Cosgrave.

The committee also recommended the government consider a trial of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite services to gauge their potential as a future connectivity option for rural and remote users.

The report was provided to the government in mid-December last year but only tabled in parliament yesterday.

Minister for regional communications Bridget McKenzie said the government is "giving careful consideration to the committee’s recommendations before providing its formal response."

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