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How nbn™ determines the internet service every rural Aussie gets

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With the National Broadband Network (nbn™) completed in 2020, more homes are now able to have high-speed internet. However, there is often confusion on what type of connection will be available at a rural home e.g. whether it’s Sky Muster™ Satellite or Fixed Wireless broadband.

This blog post aims to answer this question by explaining the differences in how Sky Muster™ Satellite and Fixed Wireless broadband services work, why this impacts what your home can get connected via, and how nbn uses these factors to determine which service is available at your premises.

What is Fixed Wireless?

Fixed Wireless technology is typically used outside of urban centres where premises are spread out geographically over many square kilometres. An antenna is installed on your roof and connects your premises to the nbn™ network via a transmission tower up to 14 km away.

Connecting equipment also needs to be installed at the point where the cable from the rooftop antenna enters your premises.

Customers using Fixed Wireless have access to a choice of capped data plans plus limitless data options if you never want to run out.

What is Sky Muster™ Satellite?

Sky Muster™ provides high-speed internet to rural and remote homes in Australia via satellite.

Ten ground stations across Australia beam internet to two state-of-the-art-satellites out in space, which in turn, beam down connectivity to regional and remote homes that are connected to the service via an installed satellite dish.

Similar to the Fixed Wireless service, connecting equipment also needs to be installed at the point where the cable from the rooftop satellite dish enters your premises.

Why is limitless data not available over Satellite?

The Sky Muster™ satellite service has hard data caps and a fair use policy that limits the amount of data households can use. This is to ensure that all users get a consistent experience and can access their fair share of data.

In 2019, a new version of the service was released by nbn™, called Sky Muster™ Plus, which provides end-users with access to unmetered data alongside a metered allowance. Only VPN use and video streaming are currently metered, everything else is limitless.

Sky Muster™ Plus take-up has been very popular among new and existing satellite customers and in 2021, SkyMesh saw over 70% of new customers choosing Sky Muster™ Plus.

Fixed Wireless, in contrast, is able to offer fully limitless plans as the network has significantly more capacity via the hundreds of towers located across Australia.

Limitless and unmetered data are really the same, it’s whether a plan is 100% limitless/unmetered or includes a metered component as with the Sky Muster™ Plus service.

How the landscape and terrain impact service availability

Both services require a “line of sight”, meaning the line of sight between your home and either a Fixed Wireless tower or satellite out in space.

Line of sight can be impacted by trees, hills or buildings.

The distance between the home and the tower influences service availability. For example, if your property is located more than 14km from a Fixed Wireless transmission tower, you will not be able to receive that technology (unless there are towers in between).

On the other hand, satellite services can deliver high-speed internet irrespective of the terrain.

Sky Muster™ is typically reserved for very remote homes in low population density areas, or properties that have a line of sight issue (due to hills, trees, mountains etc) to Fixed Wireless towers.

Below are several visual examples from the nbn™ rollout map showcasing how service availability varies depending on the landscape.

Birchip, in Victoria, is flat and has almost a perfect 14km circle around a Fixed Wireless tower.

Birchip VIC map showcasing near perfect Fixed Wireless coverage

Kilkivan, in Queensland, in contrast, has a limited coverage area for Fixed Wireless due to the rugged terrain.

Map showing limited coverage due to terrain

If you want to check your local area and see how it is impacted by the terrain, choose the following map settings.

nbn coverage map settings

Why do people in the cities get access to fibre and rural homes don’t?

It comes down to what is commercially viable. With high population density, the economics stack up to lay fibre cables as hundreds of thousands of homes can get connected. The further out of the cities you go, where population density drops, alternative technologies must be utilised to balance connectivity requirements with the cost of operating the service.

I was informed that I could get Fixed Wireless, yet the installation failed

When Covid first started, I decided to rent a property about 40 minutes outside of Brisbane in a town called Samford Valley.

The rollout map stated that Fixed Wireless was available, I moved in and proceeded with arranging an installation after getting approval from my landlord.

On the day of the Fixed Wireless installation, the nbn technician informed me that I had a line of sight issue.

The house was located in a gully and had trees all around it. My neighbours could access Wireless, but I could not. Instead, we connected via Sky Muster™ Plus and accessed the internet that way.

Unfortunately, while stories like mine are rare, they do occur and ultimately you can’t be 100% sure until the installation is completed.

In summary

The nbn™ service you can receive varies in Australia for lots of reasons. Big cities and towns with high population density get access to the internet via Fibre. Semi-rural areas with a good line of sight can connect via Fixed Wireless and isolated locations typically utilise Satellite technology. It’s not straightforward, but it makes more sense once you understand how the different technologies work and why they are utilised for certain locations.

Regardless of the service, you can get, nbn™ provides a modern alternative to legacy technologies such as 3G, 4G and ADSL.

Interested in getting connected to nbn at your rural home? Talk to one of our regional internet specialists on 1300 759 637 or use our address checker to determine your service availability.

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Barney Lassen
Written by Barney Lassen

Originally from Oxford (UK), Barney's headed up the Marketing team since 2016. Outside of work, you might catch him down his local swimming pool or walking his very-good-girl, Macey.

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