On 28 February, the National Broadband Network (NBN) will officially shut down its interim satellite service. While closure sounds threatening, that’s largely good news for satellite customers, who are generally located in very remote areas and have had little choice about how they get broadband.
The interim service was introduced to create an affordable alternative for regional Australians. It was never going to be practical to roll out fibre or cable to sparsely populated areas, so satellite has long been the main option for remote customers. Pre-NBN satellite services were generally slow and expensive.
The NBN rollout plan always included using satellite to serve remote areas, with a dedicated pair of satellites known as Sky Muster and Sky Muster II. By 2020, those will be used to serve around 400,000 locations. (The same satellites will also be used by Qantas to provide its forthcoming in-flight internet service.)
Launching satellites takes time, however, so an interim service using existing commercial satellites was launched, running at 6Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. While that’s slow compared to ADSL or the NBN, it’s much faster than dial-up. Because the pricing was more reasonable, it proved very popular, and more than 40,000 people signed up. Indeed, many providers stopped selling the service to new customers back in 2013, because demand was swamping the existing satellite service.
The first services on the NBN’s own Sky Muster satellites went on sale in April last year, and customers were encouraged to switch to that from the interim service. Sky Muster offers maximum download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of 5Mbps. Come 28 February, the slower interim service will no longer run.
While the majority of interim service customers have already migrated, around 1000 have not yet switched to another provider, according to NBN Co. If they don’t sign up for a new Sky Muster service this week, they simply won’t have any internet access.
Given that those customers have to switch anyway, it makes sense to compare the different plans available, rather than simply signing up again with the same service provider. Connection speeds will be the same no matter which satellite plan you sign up for, but data allowances and extras (such as phone service) can vary.
Most satellite plans also include a mixture of peak and off-peak data, an approach designed to ensure the service doesn’t get swamped during periods of high demand. Typically the off-peak allowance will be much higher. Make sure you check which hours actually qualify as off-peak; a large allowance isn’t much use if you want to watch Netflix but the allowance doesn’t kick in until midnight.
Angus Kidman is a technology expert and the editor-in-chief for comparison site finder.com.au.