A significant proportion of Northern Ireland’s population live in remote rural areas where they are too far from the local exchange to be able to access traditional ADSL broadband services. To access broadband through ADSL, the connection needs to be within about 4-5 miles from the exchange.And where an area is too remote for ADSL broadband, the chances are that it will be too remote for 3G Mobile Broadband. In these cases, the only real option for getting a fast internet connection is through Satellite Broadband.
Satellite Broadband is internet connectivity provided via satellite rather than through your phone line or 3G network. Satellite Broadband is linked to a dish network service and can in theory offer speeds comparable to traditional broadband.
As part of its commitment to making Northern Ireland 100% broadband accessible, the Government has signed a deal with London based Avanti Communications Group to provide subsidised Satellite Broadband services to rural residents and businesses who are unable to access fixed line network services. Avanti offers a range of packages ranging from £25 per month for 512Kbps download / 128Kbps upload through to £70 per month for 3Mbps download / 768Kbps upload. These prices do not include a connection fee of £65 plus Vat. So when compared to an ADSL offering of up to 20Mbs for less than a tenner per month, Satellite really is a last resort for those with no other options.
The Avanti contract was awarded in December 2008 and is due to expire on 7th December 2011. Avanti have come in for some harsh criticism from users who have been disappointed with both the service itself and with the customer service levels.
The following is an extract from written responses to these criticisms by the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12th Feburary 2010:
“Mr T Burns asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (i) for her assessment of the performance of Avanti Communications in delivering the services agreed under the terms of the satellite broadband contract; (ii) whether Avanti Communications has sufficient satellite broadband capacity to meet current user needs; and (iii) the number of complaints Avanti Communications has received regarding access to satellite broadband from (a) businesses; and (b) home users since it took over the contract from British Telecom.
Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment: DETI has commissioned consultancy firm Analysys Mason to independently monitor Avanti Communication’s performance in delivering the services specified in its contract with the Department. Analysys Mason has submitted three reports to date and noted that Avanti is delivering services in line with the contract.
With regard to bandwidth capacity, DETI has sought and has received assurances from Avanti that it has sufficient capacity to meet the needs of its current users. Avanti monitors and forecasts capacity requirements on an ongoing basis and will increase network capacity as required to ensure that it complies with the performance criteria of its contracts with end-users. The last capacity increase was conducted in December 2009 flowing from Avanti’s consideration of forecast requirements for the first half of 2010.
In relation to the number of complaints received, since installation of Avanti services commenced in February 2009, 87 complaints have been received from 43 customers located in Northern Ireland. These are not high numbers when taken in the context that, to end December 2009, Avanti had installed services for 787 customers in NI. It is not possible to show the complaints figure separately for business and home users as many home packages are being used by small businesses.”