The NBN rollout across the Wimmera and Mallee is on target to be finished by 2020.
The long journey to better and more equal digital connection across Australia has not been without its problems.
In the Wimmera and Mallee, some communities such as areas in Horsham are happy with super-fast speeds and connection, while others are wondering why they couldn’t just keep ADSL because it was similar speed and less likely to have service interruptions.
Since NBN was first mooted as a reality several years ago, Kaniva residents and surrounds thought they would get fixed wireless from a mobile tower. They were even hopeful of being able to connect to fibre.
However, despite lobbying through West Wimmera Shire and Member for Mallee Andrew Broad, protests to NBN Co and media publicity, the town and district has been connected to Sky Muster Satellite since October 2016, which according to NBN Co local manager Russell Kelly provides wholesale speeds of 25mbps download and 5mbps upload.
“In October last year, NBN increased the maximum monthly wholesale data limits and increased the average peak wholesale downloads plans by up to 50 per cent on the Sky Muster satellite service platform,” Mr Kelly said.
“This means homes and businesses can now access new peak and off peak packages of up to 300GB of maximum data per month through phone and internet providers.
“This is a world-leading speed for satellite and is currently in operation.”
Member for Mallee Andrew Broad has previously spoken out about the need for better NBN services in his electorate but was unable to answer questions before deadline, on how the rollout was progressing and being received by constituents, because he was travelling overseas.
Mr Kelly said Horsham was ready for service although there were a few specific addresses that could need further network construction before the old copper telephone system was switched off next April and May, depending on location.
One business in Horsham was less than impressed by the service they were getting from the fibre to node connection.
Business had not improved through faster speed internet because it was ‘barely faster than the ADSL’ and had recently started dropping out.
With more Cloud-based software being used, the slow speeds meant only about three people were able to access the software at one time.
They had signed up for the 100/40 plan but were syncing at 30 down and one up.
When the business had the problem inspected it was found the node connection was about 800m away hich impacted the speeds they could access.
The spokesperson said there were closer nodes but for some reason they were connected to a further one and because they were getting the mandated minimum speeds, nothing could be done unless they paid more than $12,000 for a fibre connection.
The person said not all businesses had poor connections; it depended on how short the copper connection from the node to business was and the quality and condition of the copper wires.
Mr Kelly had not been made aware of the problem until contacted by the Wimmera Mail-Times.
He said: “NBN has dispatched a technician to investigate the connection for this business and to ensure it is performing optimally.”
The spokesperson at the business also said that a lot of Horsham past the early part of Dooen Rd was connected to fixed wireless through a tower, and with so many people trying to access it, there were problems with connection, slowing speeds to frustrating levels.
Mr Kelly responded, saying NBN’s fixed wireless network was experiencing strong demand across the country as many people switched to using fast broadband in regional areas.
“This is has resulted in a small number of cells on fixed wireless towers experiencing heavy use in busy periods, typically during the evening.
“There is one cell on the Horsham tower servicing parts of Dooen Rd that is currently experiencing heavy use, and this is scheduled to be upgraded in coming months,” Mr Kelly said.
“As with any fixed wireless broadband technology around the world, capacity is finite and needs to be carefully monitored and managed in order to deliver a consistent customer experience.
“NBN Co is examining as many mechanisms currently at our disposal as possible, and within our control to manage capacity.”
NBN Co is currently doing three main things to help improve the experience: Capacity upgrade program to upgrade capacity on the network in areas experiencing congestion; $1 billion additional investment for capacity upgrades up to FY22; Consultation on new product consulting with industry on a new ‘Fixed Wireless Plus’ wholesale product that better manages capacity on the fixed wireless network and better reflects the changes in consumer behaviour we are seeing.
In Dimboola last year there was talk of fibre being connected in the central areas including businesses and the school, while fixed wireless was already in place on the outskirts.
Mr Kelly said the type of technology being rolled out in Dimboola central was still being planned.
People do not have to connect to NBN if the service is satellite or fixed wireless, but Mr Kelly said they were finding most people were changing over when it became available.
“Our number one focus is to deliver an excellent customer experience on the NBN and we are continually listening to customer feedback and improving our services,” he said.
NBN currently has more than 30 towers covering the Wimmera Mallee region and Sky Muster satellite access was available all over Australia, which is why it was being used for remote areas.