Wimmera primary producers are banding together to bring a new internet service to the region, after suffering what they say are years of frustration under the nbn SkyMuster service.
Hyperwave Broadband Internet was founded in northern Melbourne but has recently established a toehold around Kaniva and Nhill.
Managing director Chris Page said the company was formed about four years ago, in Melbourne's outer north.
"It was initially set up to bring people's terrible ADSL (Asymmetric digital subscriber line) services into the 21st century, by giving them actual capacity," he said.
"We used to target properties that had very long copper lines for ADSL, which were only offering two or three megabits per second (Mbps)"'
Mr Page said the company identified it could get a high capacity connection to Nhill, through a high-speed optic fibre cable, then hook up Kaniva and the surrounding district.
"Sky Muster works by pointing a dish up to the sky, and at a satellite sitting over Papua New Guinea," Mr Page said.
"It takes a long time to get that data up and down, due to physics."
He said Hyperwave used satellite dishes on properties, with the signal beamed to and from transmitter towers, replacing phone lines.
Baseline speeds for Hyperwave were 50Mbps for downloads and 10Mbps for uploads, most times of the day.
Hyperwave was a carrier, with direct connections to all the major cloud providers, including Google, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft, at its Port Melbourne data centre.
"Our Wimmera wireless tower sites are fed from Melbourne by optical fibre, ensuring the fastest speeds, lowest latency and flexibility to turn on more capacity as our customer base grows," Mr Page said.
The service had great support from organisations like the West Wimmera Shire and local businesses.
Mr Page said the technology did rely on line of sight.
"The dish needs to be able to 'see' a tower site, but out west, everyone is keen to help everyone else," he said.
"We have been able to use 30-metre high grain silos as repeater tower sites, to get the data out to other properties."
Mixed farmer Steven Hobbs, Kaniva, said he had been using Sky Muster, provided through Activ8me,
"I had no bones about the provider, just the satellite," Mr Hobbs said.
" They did a first-rate job, with a last rate satellite.
"It's not acceptable for people living in rural areas."
Mr Hobbs said locals referred to Sky Muster as Sky Monster and using it had proven extremely frustrating for many producers, in the region.
"The biggest problem with satellite is latency (lag), of between 600-700 milliseconds (ms)," he said.
"When you are on a webinar, or streaming service, the latency is too long; things would just drop out constantly."
With social distancing, the need for reliable internet had been thrown into sharp focus.
"Everything has gone to webinars, but I can attend my meetings now - it's internet that works."
Average speeds of 50ms are considered acceptable for most uses, but speed slower than 100ms, causing the most significant problems.
"The next biggest problem was the availability of the data," Mr Hobbs said.
"Activ8me would say they had 50gigs of satellite time, but you had to be up at 3 am, to use it."
He said former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dropped the ball on the nbn.
"We could have had a first-rate system, that was multi-generational - now we have this mishmash, which is never going to be any good.
"It could have been like the Snowy Mountain Scheme, a nation-building project."
"But SkyMonster is a real insult."
John Dyer, Kaniva, said he'd been very concerned about adequate internet connections, since the inception of Sky Muster.
"Six months ago I was quite vocal about all this stuff, Kaniva, and a number of little towns out there, are being mistreated," Mr Dyer said.
"The attitude was 'nup; it's the satellite for you, and nothing else.
"I've stopped talking about it because I have finally got a really good service."
He said he'd never used Sky Muster but was on an ADSL service.
"I thought that was pretty good, and it was pretty good, but it did drop out," Mr Dyer said.
"This service uploads faster, it doesn't drop out, and it's a huge improvement."
Hyperwave also had fewer constraints, when it came to data limits, as it grew.
"It's what the nbn should have been - not only what it could have been; it's what it should have been."
Mallee farmer Narelle Drage, from a cereal and sheep operation at Lah and Brim East, said she had given up working during the day, as her fixed wireless nbn was too unreliable.
"My youngest has some videos to watch each day, that take a while to load and I've had to ask my oldest to get off the internet a few times so we can watch the videos," she said.
Ms Drage, and husband David, have two children, in year two and eight, and she said she was concerned about how the internet would cope, once home schooling started.
"I'll be saying to them, from the get-go, I have internet, but I can't guarantee it will be reliable.
"That was my concern, how I work from home, where I am accessing the internet for that, and supervising them.
"I don't know it's got the capacity to deal with what we are dealing with, because who would have known this was going to happen."
She said she was with Aussie Broadband, a provider she was happy with.
"We had really good speeds, we never had any dropouts, we were the only people happy with our nbn," Ms Drage said.
"But in the last six months, it's really struggled, I have to turn the modem off and on again constantly."
NBN had increased its capacity by 40pc, operating out of the Brim tower, so she said she couldn't understand why the system wasn't coping.
"It's not a growth area; there would be the same amount of people on it now, that would have been on it, two years ago."
"They have been exceptional; we were getting download speeds of 21-22mbps, the lowest I have got is 4mpbs."
NBN Co Rural and Regional chief development officer Gavin Williams said peak data allowance had been doubled, for regular services.
"That's an offer that's available to retail service providers, across a range of plans," Mr Williams said.
NBN Co had also announced an improvement in the capability of Sky Muster Plus, which supported access to unmetered applications.
"There are a whole chunk of applications that are unmetered, if you use your regular data allowance, you can still access those other sites," he said.
"It's a significant increase in the utility of the Sky Muster Plus plans, and it's been very well received by key stakeholders, such as the Isolated Children's Parents Association, as it provides better internet access for regional and remote communities."
He said the expansion of Sky Muster was in response to calls from groups like the National Farmers Federation and other key stakeholders.
"It's important to remember telecommunications networks are designed with peak times in mind, that's typically when people are sitting down to watch streaming videos, like Netflix in the evening.
"Typical day time us is about half of that, so there is inherent headroom for growth during daytime hours.
"Those hours are relatively light on bandwidth, compared with high definition streaming."
He said there had been a 25 per cent lift in usage, across the nbn network.
"More people are doing video conferencing; more traffic is coming from homes, that's doubled, during daylight hours."
"I think it's fair to say these are unprecedented times, never before have we seen such demand for remote working and digital health," he said.
"Access to the digital economy, in all its forms - anywhere from browsing the web, to video conferencing - are things that have been highlighted to us, over the years.
"That's why we did the work with Sky Muster plus, which preceded the coronavirus crisis."
But Therapy Connect co-director Simone Dudley, Deniliquin, NSW said Sky Muster had been a game-changer for her.
She runs her business, which links therapists to customers through videoconferencing, from a broadacre and cattle farming operation, just south-east of the town.
"I have an allied health telepractice business, and before SkyMuster, I had to travel into Deniliquin, to use the internet," Ms Dudley said.
"Once we got Sky Muster installed it meant I could operate all hours, from home.
"I very rarely have a problem; if I do, it's a momentary issue, you can quickly hotspot off your phone and come back, once the internet is up."
The service is provided by Activ8me,
"In the early days, we had such limited data, but the speeds we are getting now are well and truly enough to conduct video conferencing.
"It's far better than what I was getting in town, on a standard service, pre nbn."
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