Is Lightning Broadband's 100 Mbps Internet Too Good To Be True?

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As millions of Australian homes wait for the NBN to reach their door, Lightning Broadband is deploying a wireless network promising fibre-like download speeds to suburban users.

Starting in Melbourne's inner suburbs with plans to extend to other state capitals, Lightning Broadband is connecting homes and businesses via 5.8 GHz microwave links capable of delivering 100 Mbps download speeds. The links also support 100 Mbps upload speeds, outpacing uploads on the National Broadband Network's fibre connections. Here's what you need to know.

The service has already signed up its first customers in Melbourne's inner east and the rollout will be guided by demand, with the telco accepting registrations of interest online from potential customers, says Lightning Broadband's Australian founder Jeremy Rich.

"There's huge interest in high speed broadband but the NBN was announced back in 2007 and we got sick of waiting for it to arrive," Rich says. "I think a lot of people are disappointed by the NBN, not just with the speed of the rollout but also the performance — some people get very high speeds because they're close to the nodes but other people are very disappointed."

Lightning Broadband works by beaming a signal from a tall building to microwave dishes on the roof of each home. (Image: Supplied)

"We're not just interested in the NBN's fibre to the node areas, I think anyone who is not satisfied with their internet connection — no matter what the technology — is a potential customer for Lightning Broadband."

The service offers unlimited downloads, with residential customers choosing from one of four speed tiers starting at 25 Mbps up and down for $75 per month, topping out at 100 Mbps up and down for $120 per month. Lightning Broadband also offers Voice over IP, but not standard home phone services.

Lightning Broadband is deploying microwave transmitters on tall buildings, connected to the telco's core network via 24 GHz microwave backhaul links to main towers which are connected to gigabit fibre.

Residential customers within a two kilometre radius share a microwave transmitter, requiring a microwave dish on their roof which is installed as part of the $499 set-up fee (which comes with a two-year contract). Internet traffic is not relayed between homes as a rule, meaning each home generally requires direct line of sight with the transmitter, although relays have been set up in a handful of locations.

Business customers can sign up for a dedicated 1000 Mbps microwave link which doesn't share a transmitter with other users. Lightning Broadband also offers services to developers and body corporates.

The service promises speeds of "up to 100 Mbps" to residential customers, with low latency ping times typically less than 5 milliseconds. Lightning Broadband performs a site survey before installation, Rich says, and will only sign up customers for speed tiers they can realistically achieve allowing for their distance from the transmitter and the terrain. The telco will meet its performance commitments by not allocating too many homes to the same microwave transmitter.

"Melbourne is a great starting point and Adelaide shows a lot of potential," Rich says.

"Topography is obviously more of a factor in a city like Sydney, but there's also a high population density which makes it easier to find a critical mass of potential customers in a small area so their nearby transmitter doesn't have to reach as far."

Lightning Broadband's 100 Mbps offering sounds impressive - and mainstream media is taking notice.

Lightning Broadband launches as the NBN enters its second major construction phase which will connect another three million premises by September 2018, adding fibre to the node and HFC pay TV cables to the Multi-Technology Mix. The NBN faces competition from several metropolitan fixed-wireless broadband operators, although residential-based services tend to rely on 4G mobile network rather than short-range microwave links which are generally reserved for business-grade services.

With Australia abandoning a nationwide fibre to the premises rollout, microwave has a role to play, says Australian telecommunications analyst Paul Budde. It's been one of the most resilient network technologies over the last two decades and continues to improve.

"In metropolitan areas fibre optic networks are increasingly replacing microwave links, but outside these areas microwave will still have at least another decade of life in it. In the end it will continue to exist as a niche market technology for specific terrains and specific services," Budde says.

"Other point to point fixed-wireless technologies are also making inroads in densely populated metro areas. The recently announced high level spectrum auctions (25GHz+) in the USA will open the way for yet another set of wireless technologies, as will the various flavours of 5G."

While a microwave-based service could potentially cover an entire city with fibre-like broadband speeds, Lightning Broadband's Rich says the economics would not stack up in some areas.

"Everything comes at a cost, sure you could cover an entire city with Lightning Broadband but you'd need to put up a lot more transmitters and towers, even in places where it might not be economical because you're only servicing a few customers," he says.

"In those areas cables would make more sense but of course fixed-line cabling can also be expensive, so it's really a matter of looking at each area and choosing the right technology for the job."


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    I'd definitely pay that for 100Mbit upload speeds.

    Ditto. If this is reliable and they roll it out in Perth before Malcom's fraudband comes to town I'll go with this until I have the option of FTTP.

    CTO of Lightning Broadband here, I only wish we could build as fast as people have been knocking on the door. I have been very conservative with the tech rollouts, while sales is much more eager than I to try and connect people! the usual battles never end...

    I built this to get myself internet in the outer OUTER south east of Melbourne so its the network I want to use and run for myself.

      Upload speeds seem to have been ignored in the public conversation. We move TBs of data around, and are trying to compete with companies in Poland, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as the US, and they can push the finished work up 50x faster than we can on the internet currently available to us in our town. It is crazy, they can get feedback to the client in an hour, when for us it means the next day, at best.

      I know Lightning won't be coming to where I live, but I hope it opens the discussion of the importance of upload speeds.

      Could you please provide a list of suburbs that are currently supported as well as the quoted 10-20 that are on the plans so that we can have some indication of when to expect services? I understand that you have a demand based system incoming however if there is already listed plans to do roll outs it would help us to know when and where they are.

    all well and good if you live adensely populated area like sydney, perth, wollongong etc, but for the rest of out in regional and country towns, we will still get the short end of the stick

      there are city-people, and everywhere else places.

      the city places have people working longer hours, in higher paid jobs, jobs that have a much higher impact on the advancement of everyone else living everywhere, living in expensive per-foot homes, paying more taxes (because they earn more). These people have jobs serving people at a higher cycle, and the jobs are producing services and content non-city people consume.

      non-city people are farmers, researchers and people enjoying holidays, etc. they work less hours (except maybe farmers), and don't have as high-paid jobs, don't pay as much taxes, etc.

      communications infrastructure costs for R&D, and costs for deployment, and the city-people pay for most of it, and pay to consume it also.

      non-city people don't need the fastest speeds, be they cabled or wireless, or need the lowest latencies, so they get less.

      Nobody right now in the country is watching 4K Youtube videos, or subscribing to 4K Netflix, to play on their 4K TV, and watch 4K Blu-Rays, etc.

      So why should companies invest to supply infrastructure beyond what is needed there ?

      Do you see many BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Maserati, Lamborghini, etc dealerships in the country, ready to sell to country folk ?

      No company is going to invest millions in deploying top-tier infrastructure to 20 people in the country town, who will then only pay for $50 for more-than adequate-for-their-needs speeds of 25mp/s.

      ..and they'll still complain it's too costly.

      basically city-people subsidise non-city infrastructure, and then non-city people have the gall to complain they should have parity with city-people.

      you want cutting edge? move to where it's at and pay your dues.

      Last edited 26/07/16 5:05 pm

        Then what do you eat when there's no farming people left?

          what's your point?

          are you under the impression someone claimed country people provide no value ?

            You just did.

              no, read again, as i said there was a *difference* in the value each provides to large businesses.

              nobody said one group provides *zero* value.

              It's a basic economic fact people in subUrban areas buy less compared to people in urban areas.

              Suburban people buy less, from utility energy, such as electricity and gas, and the same is true for white goods, entertainment, vehicles, homes, and general electronics.

              Even the intrinsic value of housing is more expensive per sq/ft the closer to urban areas you go. Few people in urban areas will need to buy a place costing more than 500K - 700K because that suits most people's needs there.

              That same amount will barely get you 1-2 bedroom place the closer you get to the cities, and you will easily see 1M-5M places, compared to rarely seeing such expensive places in the suburban areas.

              In contrast, Urban people upgrade their electronics more frequently, from TV's, to mobile phones. Population density also fares into decisions where infrastructure will be deployed and at what fidelity.

              businesses from supermarkets to retail, etc will all favour being closer to urban areas because of population density, and the disposable income, and buying behaviours.

              Live near the city and benefit from dozens of Internet Service Providers available, offering many plans for every budget from $20 to $100 per month. Live in the country and your lucky to have 2 providers and a few plans on offer.

              Again, how many car dealerships do you know in the country selling Maserati's and Lamborghini's ?

              like i said, no internet company is going to invest millions to deploy fiber to a town of people who will only want to pay $20 - $50 for service, because they only need 25Mb/s and 50 Gigabytes a month.

              Last edited 28/07/16 2:41 pm

                I live in the country, why do I need only 25Mb/s and 50GB per month??

                  Nobody knows your personal circumstances, but the fact is most people in the country don't want, or need, the speeds and latencies as people near the city.

    I'd be keen to investigate it further, but right now it's far too "marketing scammy" for me to register with them... Why don't they just provide simple coverage maps? If you're area isn't in that map, then let them register their interest? Why are they collecting information about how much you currently pay for internet (none of you business!)?

      Hey Cameron,

      We are building very rapidly at the moment but our coverage is limited to about 7 suburbs right now, but with another 10-20 suburbs on the 6 month build project plan. We will not be able to cover a significant area in the short term, and i am very committed to maintaining network speed and reliability so i am deliberately slowing build out efforts to ensure the quality stays high.

      The registration is purely there to justify a business case for any given suburb expansion. As we dont run to the lower end bargain basement ADSL type plans, we like to gather plan spend to work out whether the client is a $29.95 "Extinct Bird" type customer, or a "GIVE ME ALL THE MBPS AND TAKE MY MONEY" customer. (With the full range in between of course...)

        Hi I live in Aspendale where speeds are terrible for many 3mb. My neighbours and myself are willing to pay double your top plan cost, just bring it here!!!
        I'll get them all to register.

      To find out how much people on average pay then undercut by $10.
      So you and your neighbour could have the same package but be paying significantly different prices based on what your previous costs were.

    Dear lightning broadband,
    Please take my money - please.
    I'm in Perth

    Love
    Odo

      Sorry Odo,

      Perth is on the longer term planning list!

        how much interest do you already have, how close are you to deploying, for St. Kilda East area ?

      Ditto.
      I, and a number of friends, have been looking for a service like this. Even considering our own private microwave links to the one person we know with decent internet connection.

    My past experience with microwave links is that there is significant degradation when it is raining. What sort of degradation would typically be experienced during rain?

    I spoke to them asking some simple coverage questions and was sent back a quite intrusive list of questions - and no answer. To me any company that wants to know your intimate details before talking to you reeks of high pressure selling.

    Avoided like the plague from that point as quite simply I didn't want them calling me 24 hours a day with all those details to wear me down.

    This sort of pressure should NOT be needed for a "Do you service XYX suburb question"

    I'm also curious about latency both inbound and outbound? Any kind of point to point telephony such as satellite and microwave usually has a pretty heavy transmission overhead that makes things like gaming a no-go. Is this the case with your offering?

    University of Western Sydney were using microwave tech to link campuses back in about 1995 - Werrington and Westmead campuses were linked this way, and possibly also Richmond and Campbelltown. I don't think it was too fast back then (2Mbits/256Kbytes per second if I remember correctly??) but that was over 20 years ago and over distances of about 20km or more.

    Last edited 27/07/16 2:17 pm

    If wireless technology is getting better then why not? Here is another review for Lightning Broadband, seriously sick of being dictated to by the NBN and Telstra.

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