As I drove around Australia last month, one thing that struck me was how decent the 4G and 3G coverage was throughout our nation, with the exception of NT. It's been 10 years since I had done such a trip. That was before the iPhone existed and we all expected to have Facebook in our pockets 24/7. Mobile reception was notably poorer a decade ago.
What really surprised me was how having a half decent internet connection as I travelled gave me a sense of connectedness... both to my friends and family, and to the wider world. I have come to rely on the Internet for everything from banking and shopping, to communications and information consumption, not to mention entertainment.
There are so many beautiful, but remote parts of this massive island, but I found myself thinking "yeah I could live here" in many of them, in part because I didn't feel quite so distant from the rest of the world.
BUT... Mobile internet costs are way too high to be used in large doses. Each Gig of data cost be an extra $10. Living in rural Australia would require a decent home internet connection, something most remote places have gone without... until now.
Enter the NBN satellite 'Sky Muster'. Finally, residents living in regional and rural Australia will be able to connect to affordable, high-speed broadband.
Melissa Price, federal member for Durack, welcomed the official launch. “This is great news for people in Durack that will finally be able to access high speed internet,” Ms Price said.
Offering download speeds of up to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of up to 5 Mbps, the Sky Muster service will provide a faster online experience for internet users living in regional and remote areas.
“The remoteness of our continent and its islands is no longer a barrier to broadband connectivity thanks to nbn’s Sky Muster.”
To put those speeds in perspective, 25 Mbps is about a quarter of what you can get if you're on a fibre connection... but it's still 100 times faster than the speeds many people in the bush get. Many people who have access to a fibre connection only purchase a 25Mbps speed anyway. We shouldn't overstate the value of the service either. Not only are the speeds slower than fibre, but the amount of data you can download is a lot less.
Each service requires a professional installation of a new receiver dish and indoor modem.
Equal priority will be given to new customers and current nbn Interim Satellite Service users migrating to Sky Muster. Around 5,000 users per month will be connected in the early months of the rollout before scaling up to 10,000 installations per month later this year.
More than 600 installers have been fully trained and are forecast to reach on average one to two premises per day due to safety considerations and extended traveling times involved in each installation.
An estimated 22,026 homes and businesses in Durack will be eligible to connect to the service as they are outside of nbn’s fixed line and fixed wireless coverage areas.
To give you some idea of the level of service and price, for around $150 per month, you can get about 60Gb of data to use during normal times, and another 8Gb to use during off peak times. This is still a far cry from the levels needed to compare to larger centres (I use about 1000Gb per month), but it will make doing most non video tasks quite bearable in rural areas. You won't be able to enjoy copious amounts of Netflix, iTunes movies, and YouTube though.
Will people flock to the regions so they can have a notably poorer internet connection? Of course not. But will a half decent satellite connection be enough for many people who were considering a tree change? I believe it might be.