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Telstra, OneWeb cue LEOsat partnership for Australia and Pacific

Telstra has teed up a partnership with LEOsat provider OneWeb, putting it into direct competition with the NBN Co. satellite service.

The Australian telco announced an MoU with OneWeb during MWC last week, saying the two companies would "explore new solutions" for digital connectivity in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

OneWeb and Telstra would work to finalize the agreement in the coming months, Telstra said.

The service, if it goes commercial, will take direct aim at the weakest link in the NBN "mixed technology" portfolio, the Sky Muster satellite service.

Delivered by two GEO sats launched in 2015 and 2016, SkyMuster delivers a typical download speed of 512 kbit/s, up to a maximum of 2 Mbit/s off-peak, for Australians in rural areas who can't access the NBN through copper, fiber or FWA. Skymuster says it has around 110,000 connections, a fraction of the 8.4 million total NBN customer base.

These are already being targeted by Starlink which, although more expensive, seems to be having an impact. Sky Muster's total subs have dipped by 2,000 in the last five months.

The OneWeb partnership would be well placed to pick up two emerging areas that have come onto Telstra's radar in recent years.

One is the demand for an alternative to cellular in the case of natural disasters and emergencies, now taking place with alarming frequency.

Two years ago massive bushfires destroyed 17 million hectares of southeastern Australia, taking down the mobile networks with them. In the past two weeks, heavy rains and flooding have devastated the east coast, again flattening the networks. Just today the Australian government handed down A$11 million ($8.1 million) in funding to support the hardening of mobile infrastructure.


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Telstra CEO Andy Penn said backup for resiliency and support for emergency services were two of the use cases envisioned.

The other area of opportunity, also cited by Penn, is the Asia-Pacific region.

Telstra has an expanded role in the Pacific after its acquisition last year of the biggest Pacific island operator, Digicel.

Many of its mobile customers in markets such as Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Fiji also have limited choices in broadband and appear to be a prime target for high-speed satellite Internet.

Telstra's relationship with OneWeb will be non-exclusive. The satellite operator already has two distribution partners in Australia.

OneWeb says it has 428 satellites in low-Earth orbit, more than two thirds of the planned fleet, and expects to start global commercial services later this year.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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