LEOs are poised to deliver a step-change in both the speed and capacity of broadband services across the world, but this technology has immense possibility in regional and remote Australia in providing voice and data services that are indistinguishable from traditional landline telephony and other telecommunication services. With a number of LEO operators making headway into launching into the Australian market. These include Starlink (a division of SpaceX), OneWeb, Telesat and Amazon’s Project Kuiper which are launching global LEO satellite constellations,and all have indicated their intention to serve the Australian market (with one already in service).
Speaking at the Technology in Government conference recently, PWN Supplier; Vocus said the technology would change the way networks are delivered in a government and enterprise setting, including applications for Defence and responding to natural disasters.
Michael Ackland, national general manager for Government and special projects said Vocus will use its extensive regional network to support its plans for LEOs and expand its investment, including its network of edge facilities. “Historically, [satellite] ground stations were basically huge mechanically controlled dishes to send and receive signals,” he said. “Given LEOs have a smaller field of view, from a position close to the Earth, they require a network of ground specialists.”
Vocus has deployed some 16 ground stations for its LEO provider partners, which it expects to intensify and grow its reach, Ackland added. Vocus earlier this year signed as a distributor of LEO company OneWeb.
“We think about the Defence applications, like what we’ve seen in Ukraine with the Russian forces targeting fixed line and mobile networks, Starlink was able to rapidly activate services to get the Ukrainian Defence Force connected,” Ackland said.
“We’ve also seen how LEOs have been rapidly deployed in natural disasters. When Tonga was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami earlier this year, its only submarine cable was damaged, leaving the country reliant on satellite connections until the cable was fixed.”
Ackland said the examples happened in a matter of weeks and it won’t be hard to imagine how Australia would use the technology to maintain its connectivity during bushfires, floods and other natural disasters.
“Today, Australians in regional and remote areas are connected via a variety of extensive overlapping subsidy programs costing about a billion dollars a year combined,” Ackland added. “If you compare it with what the Canadians are doing with LEOs, they’re spending a single $600 million payment to do the same thing.”
As part of a 5 year study, Vocus also told the Productivity Commission that the current telco subsidy scheme landscape should be reviewed. The submission, written by its government relations director Luke Coleman, said: “The Universal Service Guarantee, Regional Broadband Scheme, Mobile Black Spot Program, Regional Connectivity Program and numerous state government funding programs have created an inefficient tangle of cross-subsidies which regularly overlap and overbuild one another – at a total cost to taxpayers, carriers, and consumers of more than a billion dollars every year. If current programs continue unchanged, Australiansin regional areas will be left with a duplicative patchwork of services – when a recalibration of funding could help provide superior technologies at lower cost.”
LEOsats will likely provide a superior solution, argued Vocus. “The telecommunications industry is on the cusp of a technological breakthrough which will revolutionise connectivity for Australians in regional areas – requiring a major rethink of government policies and funding programs,” the submission argued.
Vocus said that subsidies for the standard telephone service should be removed for any customers with an available mobile service; that the regional broadband scheme levy of $7 which subsidises NBN Co should be removed as it tilts the playing fieldagainst competitive entry from alternate providers such as LEOs; and that Regional Communications Fund should be abolished. A universal service guarantee fund should remain in place “tailored to address the small number of premises that lack access to voice and broadband services on a commercial basis.”
“By removing the various taxpayer and industry subsidies … LEOs could provide near-universal high-speed broadband coverage on a level playing field with other technologies. This could enable LEO operators to participate in a technology neutral competitive tender to provide the most advanced broadband services in regional Australia at the least cost to taxpayers,” the submission argued, adding that the current “absurd situation” where NBN Co and Telstra subsidise each to operate competing networks in rural and remote Australia also creates an “uneven playing field” tilted against LEOs.