2022-03-14 03:30:27 By : Ms. Alice Li

NBN versus Elon Musk's Starlink: A guide to getting reliable internet in regional Australia

How do you get fast, reliable, internet at an affordable price? 

That's the question a lot of people, particularly in regional Australia, are trying to answer. And often after a little bit of online research, they give up and call their existing provider.

But the recently released Regional Telecommunications Review found that, as commercial entities, telcos are "not always in a position to provide independent advice".

For example, you might live in a place where a particular product is available but if the telco you call doesn't sell it, they'll refer you to an inferior product they do.

And what exactly is the difference between, satellite, fixed-line, and wireless internet?

If you don't know, you're not alone, the report found many of us don't have enough "connectivity literacy".

One place offering independent advice on all of the above is the Regional Tech Hub.

It's funded by the federal government but run by the National Farmers' Federation.

The hub's manager Trent Geddes has shared his best tips for getting the right service for you.

Mr Geddes says finding out what kind of internet is available at your location is an important first step.

"Reach out to an organisation like us because we can complete an independent review of all of the technology types that are available," he says.

Or, if you'd prefer to do it yourself, the Regional Tech Hub website has links to external mapping tools that you can use to zoom in on the location of your home or office and find out what's on offer.

"Sometimes addresses, depending upon where you are in the country don't always end up translating to where your house or where your office building is," Mr Geddes says.

"So zooming in right on that point gives a finite detail of what's available."

There are many internet products on offer in regional Australia.

The newest is Elon Musk's Starlink.

Essentially it involves ordering an antenna online, nicknamed Dishy, for which customers pay $824 and pay an ongoing monthly fee of $139.

Starlink relies on what are called low-Earth orbit satellites, located about 550 kilometres from Earth, to send information through space.

Users are told to expect fast download speeds of between 50 and 250 megabits per second and upload speeds of between 10 and 20 megabits per second. 

Taraeta Nicholls, a Starlink customer in Trayning, Western Australia, says she's certainly been getting those speeds but just this week experienced crippling outages.

"Where every few minutes it's just dropping out for in excess of 10, 15, up to 40 seconds every minute, so it's made Starlink quite difficult to use," she says.

Overall she's happy she has Starlink but recommends users have a backup internet alternative.

For example, she has kept the wireless service she had before Starlink, or you could use mobile broadband. 

Mr Geddes says Starlink hardware can be easily installed in previously hard to reach places but he's concerned about longevity.

"We don't believe that it's been fully tested to the local environment," he says.

"For the amount of money [it costs] versus how long it might last is a bit of a concern for us.

"But I think people are just desperate to have an option that works better than what they might currently have and they're just taking the risk."

Starlink's terms and conditions state its equipment should work for a minimum of 12 months but performance may be affected by "acts of God" like fire and flood.

The Starlink website also says that "like other novel technology" the hardware will eventually become "technologically obsolete".

Starlink promises to give people living in the bush internet that's just as fast as in the city, but it's yet to prove itself.

"From time to time customers will need to purchase a newer model for optimal services," it says.

Starlink declined the ABC's request for an interview.

The Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia group's technology adviser, John Kitchener, says it's worth noting all satellite services are affected by moisture.

"The interruption is not so much the rain you experience at ground level but the cumulative moisture held in the troposphere in the path between your Starlink dish and any satellite," he says.

Mr Geddes says if you live in an area where NBN fixed line or wireless services are available, they can be significantly cheaper than Starlink.

"Fixed-line generally travels across a copper or a fibre," he says.

"Fixed wireless technology is delivered by a tower near the edge of town and can cover about 14 kilometres in distance and you have an antenna on your roof that receives and sends."

If neither of those services are on offer in your area, he suggests mobile broadband, which involves hot-spotting the internet from your phone to your computer or using a wireless router to connect.

"Mobile broadband, your 3G or 4G and 5G technologies, there's no limit on the amount of people who can use it in an area," Mr Geddes says.

"So eventually what happens is too many users connect and it gets congested and hampers performance."

Another option is the NBN's Sky Muster satellite service. 

"It tends to be a … primary option for people who have limited choice," Mr Geddes says.

Critics complain Sky Muster products have data caps, meaning users can't access unlimited video streaming and the download speeds are nowhere near as fast as Starlink's.

But advocates say if you're not interested in streaming huge amounts of Netflix, Sky Muster allows reasonable internet access in places that previously struggled to get service.

Watch this story on ABC TV's Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.

We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.

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