Austar sells spectrum to NBN Co


Subscription television services provider AUSTAR today announced it had sold its 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz wireless spectrum holdings for $120 million to NBN Co in a deal which will facilitate the government-owned company’s plans to roll out a high-speed fixed-wireless service to rural and regional areas.

In a statement, AUSTAR chief executive John Porter said the deal was to the advantage of his company, the NBN Co and regional Australians. “There is no doubt that NBN Co will build broadband services in regional Australia very efficiently with consumers outside metropolitan markets finally gaining access to world-class broadband services,” he said.

Porter said the agreement reached with NBN Co was different from other deals signed in the past with Optus and OPEL, as they had included a combination of cash and “various” wholesale arrangements.

“NBN Co’s wholesale model will provide a level playing field for all service providers,” he said. “By retailing NBN Co services, AUSTAR will be able to offer consumers a broader range of products than we would have by building our own network”.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley echoed Porter’s positive remarks, saying rural and regional Australians would benefit from more services. “Our network will be based on a suite of technologies aimed at providing the cost-effective rollout of services to meet the needs of Australian wherever they live or work, on a standardised, ubiquitous network,” he said.

AUSTAR’s group director of corporate development, Deanne Weir, said the company would now now focus on developing its content platform beyond its current satellite-delivered customer base of 30 per cent of regional homes. “We will also look to create relationships with regional Australian homes that we don’t currently service, via high-speed broadband and VOIP offerings,” she said.

AUSTAR acquired the wireless spectrum more than half a decade ago with the intention of rolling out a regional wireless broadband network of the kind deployed by Unwired — now vividwireless — in metropolitan areas. However, with Australia’s broadband environment rapidly evolving over the past five years, the plans were eventually shelved.

Image credit: David Ritter, royalty free


  1. “AUSTAR’s group director of corporate development, Deanne Weir, said the company would now now focus on developing its content platform beyond its current satellite-delivered customer base of 30 per cent of regional homes.”

    Rather than simply expand, I hope Austar use some of that $120 million to improve the quality and content of their TV service, as they are pathetic in comparison to Foxtel. Wishful thinking I know.

    • Could someone explain to me why Austar and Foxtel cannot compete directly in the same markets? It has always been lost on me why Austar couldn’t even more Satalite TV services in metro areas, and Foxtel can’t expand their service beyond metro areas…

      • Never quite got my head around that one either, but believe it relates to the media ownership laws.

        That is, how no single owner may own a television service that can be received by more than a certain percentage of the population.

        It is similar to how you can only own a single newspaper based in a single market. In Melbourne for example, Fairfax would not be allowed to own “The Age”, and then buy the “Herald Sun”, because then you’d be the owner of 100% of the “major newspaper” market.

        Our friends at “The Australian” are a different case, as their market is considered “national” rather than local. That’s how News Limited manages to get two major newspapers into each major city.

        If Foxtel were allowed to go 100%, they would be “available” to 100% of the population, so I believe that’s why they don’t have a licence to cover the whole country.

        The funny part of it is that the proportion of the country they can’t go to is Austar, which carries almost identical channel set.

        The internet allows me to read the “Sydney Morning Herald” from Melbourne.

        All this just goes to further prove how out of date our existing media laws are.

    • In terms of satellite, Foxtel and Austar share the same platform. Same satellite, same channels, different encryption. There are channels that Austar carries that Foxtel don’t (eg: Al Jazeera English), and channels that Foxtel carries by Austar don’t (eg: Speed).

      But they are all up there, on the C1/D3 co-lo-satellites running off the same transponders. A suggestion that Foxtel and Austar are significantly different on satellite is odd. They’re channel packaging and pricing structures are not the same, but the content – (given the channels are the same) – is identical.

      Austar’s STB boxes are crappier.

      I’ve not seen Austar’s cable service – (Darwin, mainly) – so can’t comment if it’s any different – (ie: better or worse than Foxtel or Austar Satellite).

      • That’s interesting info. So you’ re sure that there is no re-compression going on for AUSTAR feeds in any areas? The only reason I ask is the bit-rate is so low for most channels in Hobart (severe macro-blocking and mosquito noise visible on all channels).

        As you pointed out the boxes AUSTAR use are definitely inferior quality compared to Foxtel, so some of the poor picture quality can certainly be attributed to shitty decoders and in their set top boxes, but my memories of checking out Foxtel in other capital cites (not the most scientific of comparisons I know!) is that the picture quality is much better. Not to mention there were more HD channels available.

        The poor reliability and general performance of AUSTAR boxes is certainly often discussed down here. They were the bane of my existence when I worked installing home theatre equipment!

        From Wikipedia’s AUSTAR page:

        MyStar has been having ongoing technical issues which have plagued the system since release; however, Austar have said that “they have a huge team of people that will actively jump onto any issues as soon as they are reported to the call centre”. Some of the numerous bugs are The MyStar box regularly causes the screen to black out, recordings to fail, and the screen to freeze; it has also has been known to automatically switch itself off and on.[11]

  2. Interesting- thats spectrum I’ve been wondering about for a while. I wonder if NBNCo will go after some better (propagation wise) 700Mhz spectrum in a couple of years as well.

    One point you should ask about tho, when Austar and Unwired did their spectrum swap a few years ago I thought it included a provision for Austar using it in a manner that was compatible with Unwired’s WIMAX aims. Perhaps they negotiated out of this when Unwired turned Vivid…or perhaps it was only a rumor :).

    • The answer to the first part of that is fairly likely to be “absolutely”.

      If you look at 700Mhz, that corresponds to the upper half of existing television channel 52, and the highest television channel – 69 – tops out just below 820Mhz.

      The analogue television switch off is slated to be completed by the end of 2013 – oddly enough about the time the final NBN solution for the wireless component is due to be launched.

      The switchoff will see the top part of the television broadcast spectrum reallocated to wireless operators, much the same as happened in the US with their analogue switch off.

      So it seems pretty likely that that spectrum is earmarked for NBN use.

      • Some of it is but the mobiles networks will need it as well to be internationally competitive for LTE- its going to be a key LTE band in the US & other countries.

        • I’m sure it will sort out.

          Telstra’s LTE will be running in either the 1800Mhz or 1900Mhz range – (can’t remember which!) – and I think VHA will have their offering similarly placed somewhere in one of those bands.

          • They are for now- but they’ll be after more! Telstra doesn’t have enough 1800Mhz spectrum (even with the chunk they bought from iBurst) for future LTE projections, nor would they be keen to replicate the LTE version of NextG rurally with spectrum that has much lower propagation. They will be wanting 700Mhz spectrum fort LTE before its fully mainstream, as they did with 3G (start in 2100Mhz with 3, then move to fully 850).

        • Just checking an ACMA frequency chart, the 850Mhz block – (NextG and VHAs new network) – is 40Mhz wide. The allocations higher up – (1800Mhz, 1900Mhz, and 2100Mhz) – are also 40Mhz wide.

          So if they reallocated 700 through 850, you’d have:

          700 to 740
          740 to 780
          780 to 820

          So three chunks that neatly fall into the television spectrum above 700Mhz. 820 to 850 seems to be already allocated to something, but the chart doesn’t say who/what uses them.

      • Wait, wait – does that mean I should keep my analogue TV and after the NBN rollout, tune it to channel 52 to intercept my neighbour’s porn feed?

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