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How does nbn™ satellite internet actually work?

satellite dishes at ground station

Access to satellite internet services like the nbn™ Sky Muster™ and Sky Muster™ Plus services is essential for a huge chunk of rural and remote Australians.

We know you depend on it, but do you know how it actually works?

Here’s how nbn™ satellite internet actually works

Humungous satellite dishes live at ten ground stations across Australia. In fact, there are at least two of these humungous satellite dishes at every ground station.

Those ground stations are connected to the nbn™ depot in Sydney via optical fibre links.

The humungous satellite dishes then beam internet signals to two state-of-the-art-satellites out in space which in turn beam that same signal to regional and remote homes where it’s received via a much smaller satellite dish.

An nbn™ satellite modem is installed where the cable from the roof enters your home and that connects to a router.

Provided you’re installed properly, and you have an active internet account with a retail service provider (RSP), all you need to do next is hook up your device!

When you’ve got a device connected, any actions you take in your browser will go back from your small satellite dish, to the satellite in space, and then to that humungous satellite dish at the ground station for communication with the internet.

Diagram explaining how satellite internet works on the nbn

[Image source: nbn™ co]

Surely there’s more to it?

Well, yes. The actual mechanics are a bit more complicated than the picture I’ve just drawn for you, but the basic premise remains the same.

All this satellite internet infrastructure is owned and maintained behind the scenes by nbn™, but they don’t sell you the connections.

They do, however, decide how to package up access to that infrastructure. In other words, they determine the types of service we as RSPs can sell to people who want an internet connection.

When it comes to satellite internet, nbn™ have made the following types of service available:

Sky Muster™ Plus services use the same hardware as Sky Muster™ services but are managed by nbn™ on a calendar-month basis and are supplied on different terms. You can migrate each way between these services, but your billing day may change, and a new application may be required.

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Understanding the mechanics of how nbn™ satellite internet works

Imagine that the nbn™ satellite internet service is the highway and it’s made up of lanes that cars travel along.

In this metaphor, the highway lanes are what we know in tech jargon land as CVCs (Connectivity Virtual Circuit) and the cars are AVCs (Access Virtual Circuit).

There are only so many cars that can travel along the existing lanes of a highway before the traffic gets congested.

When you’re on the Internet, you are a car in a lane on the highway.

The nbn™ decides how many lanes are on the highway and then they sell each RSP access to a certain number of those lanes for customers to travel along.

SkyMesh always buys the maximum amount of CVC capacity that is permitted for satellite providers under the nbn™ Wholesale Broadband Agreement and we’re always working to manage our CVCs so our satellite customers get the best experience available.

Sometimes, those lanes get clogged up and require a bit of traffic control. That’s when amazing technicians inside each RSP act as traffic controllers trying to free up the congestion.

Likely, you noticed quite a bit of this during the early days of COVID-19 lockdowns.

You will have seen it in the form of emails from us – if you’re a SkyMesh customer – letting you know about scheduled maintenance to the network. It will have meant a certain amount of downtime on your connection.

When the network is down, those aforementioned amazing technicians work super hard to shuffle customers to less congested lanes, so you have a much better all-round experience.

Sometimes far more techie stuff is happening when you get one of those notices, but generally it’s about ‘road work’ on the highway.

nbn™ also play a role in traffic control with their Fair Use Policy which limits the use by each connection to make sure there is enough room on the highway for all the cars.

What impacts the speed of an nbn™ satellite internet service?

The speed of your service may be affected by a range of factors, including:

  • Environmental: overgrown vegetation, new buildings, sun fade, rain fade and severe weather
  • Hardware: the inherent performance of your computer and other network equipment such as your modem, router or access point; and the length and quality of your cabling
  • Software: the configuration of your operating system, network stack, online application and network equipment such as your modem, router or access point
  • Electromagnetic interference: noise from other Wi-Fi networks, faulty power supplies or other faulty equipment may interfere with your own Wi-Fi network or the satellite signal
  • Over utilisation: too many active devices sharing your service can result in your devices being starved of enough bandwidth to operate properly.
  • Congestion: peak traffic in the evenings and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks
  • Faults: equipment failures, backhaul fibre cuts, undersea cable breaks and routing issues can affect the flow of local and international traffic
  • Content: third-party content servers may only allocate you with a limited amount of bandwidth
  • Overheads: depending on the network protocols that you use, a percentage of your service bandwidth may be used for the transfer of non-payload data.

Please note that the actual effect of all of these factors on your service may not be ascertained until after the service is activated.

Sky Muster™ Fair Use Policy

nbn™ requires customers to limit their data usage to no more than 300 GB in any four-week period.

Furthermore, peak hour data usage is limited to no more than 150 GB in any four-week period.

nbn™ defines peak hours as from 7am until 1am the following day.

They also require each service provider (including SkyMesh) to limit their peak hour data usage per customer to an average of no more than 45 GB of downloads and no more than 5 GB of uploads in any four-week period.

As a result of this policy, our broadband plans with smaller data allowances represent better value than those with larger ones. And unlike other services with unmetered Netflix, all Netflix traffic is metered on the Sky Muster™ service.

Sky Muster™ Plus Fair Use Policy

nbn™ has developed a separate Fair Use Policy for Sky Muster™ Plus and there are certain restrictions on the service, including unmetered content.

Although you’re unlikely to bump into any of these restrictions, nbn™’s policy forbids routine emails over 20 MB in size, operating system updates for more than 20 devices each calendar month and excessive, automated scraping of websites.

The service must not be used to exceed the peak data allowance by more than 30 GB each calendar month and must not be used to exceed the off-peak data allowance by more than 30 GB each calendar month.

Services must not be used to:

• connect neighbouring premises
• support carrier or service provider data aggregation applications that result in substantial and continuous network throughput
• support a carrier or service provider interconnection
• bypass the application of shaping by being disconnected and reactivated
• match a traffic profile not intended by nbn™.

Network bonding or load sharing of multiple services is forbidden by nbn™.

Rule violations may lead to lead to nbn co de-prioritising your traffic, negatively affecting your data speed, or SkyMesh suspending your service.

satellite dish on side of red wall

Getting connected with SkyMesh

If nbn™ has already installed all of the equipment needed to successfully connect your premises to the nbn™ network, your new service will typically be activated within two business days of us processing your application.

We will process applications as soon as possible upon receipt but some may take longer than usual if there is something outside a standard installation to be considered.

Otherwise, nbn™ will arrange for one of its technicians to install the equipment within 20 business days of receiving your application, in line with their service level agreement with SkyMesh.

In isolated regions on the mainland, and in Tasmania, it may take nbn™ up to 35 business days to complete the installation.

For limited access areas, including those which are only accessible by air or water, nbn™ has a target of 90 business days.

Once all of the equipment is successfully installed, we just need to activate your new service which should take one or two business days.

Find out if satellite nbn™ is available where you live

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satellite dishes at ground station
Louise Hughes
Written by Louise Hughes

Louise has had a life-long love affair with beautiful words; writing because it drives her, and reading because it feeds her soul. She's the luckiest woman alive to be able to create clever content and intelligent customer experiences for a living.

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