The other 7 percent

"You do it once, you do it right, you do it with fibre!" It sounds like an ad for All-bran, but these were the words of the Honourable Member for New England, Tony Windsor, sounding the death-knell for a potential minority Coalition government. We were into the homestretch of the most protracted Federal election in memory, and the NBN was once again at the forefront. Hooray! Who doesn't love fibre? Wireless providers, I suppose.

It is often forgotten amidst all the crowing and screaming that the fibre part of the NBN will service only 93% of the Australian population. It's an impressively high number, but it's not everyone. The remaining 7% - comprised of users in remote or small regional centres - is to be serviced by an entirely different technology: namely, satellite. So how is this going to work?

NBN Co has announced plans to launch two next generation satellites, each boasting a total capacity of 60 - 80 gigabits per second. The goal is peak download speeds of 12 Mbps for end users, although realistic download speeds will be contingent upon a number of factors (mostly equipment).  NBN Co is also exploring satellite technologies capable of at least 100Mbps.

It should also be noted that these will be entirely devoted to broadband, meaning that capacity will not be diluted by demand for television and satellite phones. They will also be exclusively used for Australian use - including far flung island territories and Antarctic holdings - meaning that capacity won't be resold to foreign interests.

The question of who will build and deliver them is still up in the air. In January, NBNCo 'issued a request for capability statements (RCS) for the supply of satellite services', which is essentially a scoping exercise designed to source a suite of providers, including a satellite manufacturer and launch providers, as well parties capable of delivering ground station build and operations, customer equipment, and network and IT services. There were reports that a shortlist of providers had been achieved by June, although given that the glacial rate these processes uniformally run at, it could still be some time before those satellites find their way into the upper atmosphere. 

In the meantime, the plan is to acquire capacity from existing satellites, and then resell that at wholesale rates. There is as yet no announcement as to when these services will go live.