Optus to operate CBN satellites



news NBN Co announced over the weekend that it had signed a deal with Optus which will see the SingTel subsidiary provide tracking, telemetry and control services regarding NBN Co’s two satellites planned to be launched in 2015.

The two satellites — being constructed by Space Systems/Loral at the moment and to be launched into orbit by Arianespace in 2015 — will provide broadband services to a small percentage of Australians who live in areas too remote to be provided with fixed or wireless broadband services. They are a remnant of Labor’s original National Broadband Network plan but also appear to be continuing under the Coalition’s Broadband Network (CBN) initiative.

Previously, it had been expected that NBN Co itself would operate the two satellites. However, the company over the weekend announced that Optus would do so in its place. The five year contract, with options to extend for up to 15 years, was awarded following a competitive tender. Under the contract Optus will provide tracking, telemetry and control services in connection with NBN’s Long Term Satellite Service. The two satellites currently under construction are scheduled to launch in 2015.

Matt Dawson, Program Director Satellite at NBN Co, said the company was committed to delivering fast broadband to Australians and it made sense to use modern satellite communications to serve around 200,000 homes, farms and businesses in rural and remote areas, including Australia’s overseas territories.

“Satellite broadband will help bridge the divide between the city and the bush. The two new NBN satellites are designed to deliver a dedicated broadband service for remote parts of the country at speeds people in the city take for granted,” Dawson said.

“NBN Co’s Interim Satellite service reached capacity in December 2013 after 48,000 premises ordered a service. To be able to provide fast broadband to rural and remote areas of Australia, the launch of NBN Co’s two new dedicated Long Term Satellites is crucial.”

NBN Co is building 10 satellite ground stations and plans to install two 13.5 metre ViaSat satellite antennas at eight facilities, as well as four antennas at two of the facilities. Locations that have been identified: Wolumla near Merimbula NSW, Bourke in north-western NSW and Broken Hill in NSW; Ceduna in South Australia; Geraldton and Geeveston in Tasmania; Waroona, Carnarvon and Kalgoorlie in West Australia and Roma in Queensland.

This new agreement is in addition to Optus’ existing relationship with NBN Co, announced in May 2011, under which Optus supplies managed services for NBN Co’s Interim Satellite Service, which now appears to be full, with no further customers being accepted.

Optus currently has five satellites in orbit with another planned for launch in 2014 to provide additional satellite services to its corporate, enterprise and government customers. The two new Ka-band NBN Co satellites will be controlled from Optus’ satellite ground station facility located in Sydney’s northern suburb of Belrose.

Very interesting. This move was not expected, to my mind. I had thought the understanding was always that NBN Co was going to develop its own in-house capability to operate its satellites.

Although the contract has been announced too quickly after the Federal Election for this to be seen as a move by the Coalition, I view this contract as setting NBN Co’s satellite operation up perfectly for privatisation in only a few years. Think about it: NBN Co is currently outsourcing provision of its interim satellite service to Optus. Third parties are currently building and launching NBN Co’s own satellites, and Optus will be managing them when they do launch.

So what, precisely, is NBN Co doing here that couldn’t be done by somebody else, if NBN Co sold off its satellites and the contracts to operate them? Seems like it’s somewhat inevitable, to me. And Optus, Australia’s largest satellite operator, would appear to be in pole position to take over … wait, isn’t that more or less what happened back in AUSSAT was originally sold to Optus twenty years ago? History repeating …

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. And people in the bush will get screwed over again. Or the government will have to give away millions in subsidises. What a joke.

  2. Not too surprising though; if anyone has expertise managing and maintaining a satellite internet system; its Optus, being the company operating several satellites of its own.

    No need to employ additional resources that are probably not 100% utilised by the existing system.

    I am worried about the privatisation aspect; but not overly, since I suspect it would be subject to price control (then again; it is the liberals that would be selling it! so anything could happen if it sells!).

  3. If anyone has the expertise in managing and maintaining FTTP/FTTN/HFC internet systems, it’s Optus/Telstra, being these companies operate these technologies already.

    I like to bash Telstra as much as any average Australian, but at least it’s an Australian owned company. I’d rather give them the contract, than a foreign owned company like Optus, in Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project.

    On second thoughts, I’d rather risk giving it to ISP with less satellite experience like iiNet or TPG.

    Seems un-Australian though doesn’t it? I remember Abbott was considering HUAWEI for supplying parts to the NBN, before our men in black said he can’t authorize that. In a way, isn’t this just selling off another piece of Australia to foreign ownership?

    Not only that, but this short term vision (5 year contract) just highlights how quickly the CBN will be sold off to private enterprise once the build is finished.

    I wish the NBN could have been built as a premium service, like a bullet train or postal service, and be kept under government control as a shining beacon of what our government can do (right) when it pulls it’s head out of it’s arse.

    The Liberals however believe everything can be done better by private enterprise, so they will want to sell it off ASAP. It’s a flawed ideal based on their own failings. It’s like hateful people that assume everyone is just as hateful, just hiding behind fake smiles. The NBN could have been something that boosted public confident in the ability for GBE’s to be successful. Instead the Libs have all but said “we suck and we know it, so don’t trust us to run your NBN”.

    • “The Liberals however believe everything can be done better by private enterprise…”

      That’s actually a very interesting comment IMO, because it’s a clear admission that they themselves, can’t manage as well as private enterprise.

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