Telstra is taking on Elon Musk in the regions with a first-of-its-kind new partnership with a UK-based satellite internet service to bolster remote connectivity.
Overnight Telstra chief executive officer Andrew Penn announced a memorandum of understanding with internet company OneWeb in Barcelona — it’s the first time the telco giant has opted for low-Earth orbit satellites, known as LEOs.
Starlink, owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk, launched their own LEO service last year and a mass migration soon followed in the regions away from the NBN’s Sky Muster, which uses geostationary satellites.
That’s because LEOs are known for a faster signal and less lag due to the shorter distance the communication needs to travel — providing much more reliable internet for rural areas.
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Starlink download speeds are between 100Mbps and 200Mbps, while the standard and premium Sky Muster services are up to ten times slower, with maximum download speeds of 25mpbs and 50mbps respectively.
Starlink turned on coverage in NSW and Victoria last April but has since started serving customers in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland too.
It comes as emergency Starlink terminals were brought in to reconnect pockets of NSW’s northern regions suffering the worst of the state’s flood damage — the rapid deployment kits were given to Upper Wilsons Creek and Upper Main Arm, with discussions continuing about more for Lismore and Byron Bay areas.
Telecommunications expert from The University of Sydney, Tooran Alizadeh, says it’s too soon to say whether Telstra’s new partnership with OneWeb will see genuine connectivity improvements for remaining customers in regional Australia.
“This is just another indication that something needs to be done for regional Australia as their current level of access to the internet is simply not good enough,” Alizadeh says.
“If anything I got more excited when Labor prioritised regional Australia in their latest announcement regarding the NBN upgrades in November 2021.
“Obviously, the Labor’s plan can only eventuate if they win the upcoming federal election. But I hope it pushes the Coalition government to expand their current NBN upgrade plans to include regionals.”
Telstra’s partnership follows more than a decade of problems associated with the Coalition’s NBN, which was launched in 2009 with the goal of providing terrestrial fibre network coverage for 93% of Australian premises by 2020.
Fixed wireless and satellite coverage was intended to serve the remaining 7%.
But in 2014, the Coalition government confirmed the NBN rollout would change from a fibre-to-premises model to a multi-technology-mix model, attracting rebukes for being slow, expensive and obsolete.
In the midst of what Alizadeh called a “climate emergency season”, there’s never been a more important moment to connect regional and rural Australia, she continues.
“Our regional communities and especially the farmers need to have access to the reliable internet to get the real-time data to help them make the right decisions which could save lives (both human and non-human lives — e.g. farm animals),” she says.
“Moreover, regional small and medium-sized businesses need reliable internet to survive the unpredictable economies imposed and highly impacted by COVID.
“So, this is no question for me the fast reliable internet is a must for regional Australia [and] unfortunately, the current NBN is unable to provide so.”