NBN lets down Tasmania, again.

Tasmanian communities of Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan and Strahan will be forced onto an already “severely oversubscribed” satellite beam.

The company building the National Broadband Network (nbn) has revealed that they will no longer provide a fixed-line or fixed wireless solution to major settlements located along the west coast of Tasmania.

Up till July this year, nbn has released various rollout plans showing the towns of Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan and Strahan as candidates for the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) and Fixed Wireless rollouts which would have seen Fibre to the Node be rolled out to the majority of premises.  The area was also expected to receive a Fibre to the Premises rollout under the previous all-fibre NBN policy.

  • Queenstown: 1,300 FTTN
  • Rosebery: 600 FTTN, 300 FW
  • Zeehan: 500 FTTN
  • Strahan: (originally planned for NBN Fixed Wireless)

However, when questioned by Senator Anne Urquhart at a Senate Estimates hearing last month — nbn‘s chief executive Bill Morrow revealed that they have re-allocated premises in those areas to be serviced by the recently launched NBN Satellite.  Citing high costs of up to $20 million to build out a second fibre path to the west coast towns, the executive said:

Because of the cost to provide fibre services in the backhaul sense to serve within the FTTN. The area only has one fibre path going out to it, and you need to have two for redundant based services. The cost—and we have looked at it a number of different times—to provide fibre out there in a different path makes it exorbitantly expensive.

The move to satellite has also been independently confirmed using NBN’s internal technology modelling.  However, the towns affected are all currently being serviced by Telstra ADSL/ADSL2+ services, with Queenstown having access to the Telstra 4G network as well.

“Severely Oversubscribed” Satellite Beams

The beams servicing this area, number 54 and 56, has also been identified by NBN’s Fixed Wireless/Satellite Strategic Review as being “severely oversubscribed” prior to the redesignation of the fixed-line footprint in July.  Adding another 3,000 premises would not improve the satellite congestion anticipated in those areas.

NBN Long Term Satellite beams
Diagram showing NBN Co satellite beams. Red beams are severely oversubscribed, yellow is oversubscribed. (FWSat SR, 2014)

However, given the availability of existing ADSL/ADSL2+ services in those towns, it is unlikely that residents will switch to the National Broadband Network due to increased latency.  As revealed last monthnbn will implement a fair use policy for the NBN satellite.  While the final policy is yet to be confirmed, the first version released saw a standard quota of 75GB per month… a far cry from the current data quotas on comparable ADSL plans.

Microwave backhaul

A report written by Engineers Australia in 2010 stated that the affected towns (amongst others) were serviced by Telstra using microwave backhaul links rather than fibre at the time it was written.  However, the testimony given by nbn executives at Senate Estimates suggests that a single non-redundant fibre path has been built since the report was written.

Originally, it appears that nbn had planned to build its transit network out to Queenstown (see diagram below, published in March 2014) using a single non-redundant spur fibre path from Sheffield or Burnie.

NBN Co's transit network
NBN Co’s transit network as at 31st March 2014


$20 million to build a redundant path to service ~3,000 potential customers does seem unreasonably high.  I don’t think it’s wise to go ahead to do spend that money.

However, it does beg the question why NBN cannot use their own microwave links as the redundancy path to service the west coast communities.  Given there is supposedly already a single fibre path that nbn can utilise, using microwave links as a redundancy path would surely be cheaper than fibre — right?

nbn has effectively neglected these communities. I doubt anyone who lives in an area with existing, well-established communications infrastructure like ADSL/ADSL2+ connections and Telstra 4G mobile reception would opt for a NBN Satellite connection given their smaller data allowances (compared with fixed-line DSL) and higher latency.  This is most unfortunate, given National Broadband Network is supposed to fix and improve connectivity around Australia — not offer a degraded version of it.

I’ve seen isolated cases like this in the past — people able to access existing DSL broadband but placed on the satellite… but not to this scale.  Not entire communities like this.

Yes, nbn‘s current Government policy is to build the network out “at the least possible cost”… but that doesn’t mean putting   thousands of premises into an already severely congested satellite beam!  Our former communications minister, now PM’s buzzword of being “agile” seems to be lost at nbn.  Surely as a special case, there can be alternative arrangements made for the redundant path?

Kenneth Tsang

I'm the author of jxeeno™ blog and co-founder of HSCninja.com. I'm a bit of an #NBN and public transport geek. You can normally find me juggling work and my studies at UNSW where I'm currently completing a degree in Geospatial Engineering.

  • the_new_normal

    Not surprised, but also severely disappointed.
    Innovative way to stop innovation

  • Adam Mostogl

    I live in Queenstown and you’ve provided a great outline of the issue we’re facing, but I wasn’t aware of the satellite congestion before we even connect.

    The only thing to add is that we have an ADSL network that is at capacity as well – Zeehan has users on Mobile 3G internet because there aren’t enough ports available and Queenstown is extremely close to that point as well. So while ADSL could save us – you’ve already got to have a connection to benefit, and the benefit is using a stressed connection. I struggle to watch live events over the connection and it’ll only get worse as more services for remote communities are delivered only using the internet infrastructure that isn’t being rolled out here.

    We can only raise the issue and hope that the powers that be recognise what the implications will be for our communities as the rest of Australia embraces digital technologies in new ways.

  • Neil

    This is disgraceful really. NO town should be serviced by satellite. There should be fibre and / or high capacity terrestrial microwave links to ALL towns, (after all, they managed to get copper phone lines to them 100 years ago, why not the same but with fibre now?)
    Satellite is crapellite!!!! It is NOT a true broadband service, due to it’s limited monthly data plans, latency, and non-upgradable downlink / uplink speeds!
    ‘Up to’ 25 Mbps is looking on the slow side today, I doubt it’s going to be at all suitable in 10 – 15 years time!!!
    While it is an essential service for very remote customers in the mean time, and I applaud it, it is entirely inappropriate as a true, modern, broadband service.
    I think the NBN will find that it will be an entirely inadequate service in a couple of years time, and will have to go back and build fixed line / terrestrial wireless infrastructure anyway.
    Fingers crossed this is what will happen for those earmarked for satellite.
    The precious remaining satellite capacity can then be spared for the 48000 or so current interim satellite subscribers, while they wait for a decent broadband service to be rolled out also.
    Why can’t the NBN offer something like a payment plan to enable a technology upgrade path?
    I think you’ll find the people who want an upgraded service are more than willing to pay the gap for such,
    they just want a decent, high speed internet service, with ADSL-like (100, 250, 500, 1000GB / mnth) data plans! Can’t be that hard!
    For example, they could charge a yearly levy, e.g. $500 / yr over 15 years, (tied to the property) so that customers can opt for a decent service, like FTTP or fixed wireless, instead of satellite?
    Just my thoughts…

  • Wahroonga Farm

    Hi Ken,

    When both nbn and yourself consider that an additional cost of up to $20m for a second fibre back haul link is too high for 3,000+ customers; does that consider any cost offset between the cost per LTS installation vs the cost per FTTN installation?

    Is a per premise LTS installation cheaper than a per premise FTTN network upgrade and installation, after the sunk cost of the satellite?


    John k

    • tsangk

      Hi John,

      I’m not privy to any detailed costings by nbn, but offsetting CPP for satellite is tricky because the majority costs in the Satellite CPP are sunk costs for the satellite launch. 2016 CP lists the LTS CPP as $7,900 assuming the satellite reaches planned capacity.

      However, if nbn predicts that a very small portion of premises in the old west cost fixed-line area will connect to the nbn (because nbn satellite may provide an interior service over existing ADSL services), then technically the CPP would be nil or negligible. Effectively, nbn will save some $30+ million dollars by switching everyone to satellite because very few people will take up the option.

      Running some small calcs, the $20 million “2nd return path” split evenly across 2.9k premises (2.4k FTTN, 500 FW) plus the 2016 CPP figures for each technology would have a weighted average CPP of $9,645.

      So, even if everyone in the old FTTN/FW footprint took up satellite, nbn is still “worse off”. This means under the requirement set by the government’s SOE to build the nbn with the least cost possible, they’d opt for the satellite over a return path fibre.

      • Wahroonga Farm

        Thanks Ken.

        My back of the envelope calculations agree. 🙂

        But then they won’t take up satellite over ADSL, so Malcom pockets the loose change. 🙁

        An ‘innovation free zone’ is declared.


        John k

  • Peter Young

    I lived in George Town and have had first hand experience with, why this is not progressing. Purely and simply the people installing the NBN are lazy and very rarely move their vehicles from there residence.
    I suppose its because when the job is completed they are out of work. I can confirm this I lived on the same street as the people responsible and when push came to shove they would claim oh Sorry wrong address
    or we never received confirmation. Their vehicle stayed parked most days on the verge outside their residence. One business has waited over 18 months in a town where NBN is established. the company I worked for waited 6 months. Disgusting, lazy, useless, hopeless, And this is in a town that boasts NBN everywhere. Go figure!! know wonder the west coast doesn’t have a snowballs hope in hell.