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Telstra Builds Microwave Link Across Bass Strait

Telstra is implementing a massively long 10 Gbps Microwave link across Bass Strait linking Victoria and King Island. It’s rolling out the first of its Starlink satellite plans in March. It’s also developing a cloud-hosted backup system that will keep vital phone services operating during an outage.

Telstra made these disparate announcements ahead of the world’s largest telecommunications conference – Mobile World Congress – scheduled in Barcelona next week. It says it will have more to say at the event.

Telstra Starlink packages will start rolling out in March

Starlink with Telstra

Telstra’s signing of an agreement with Elon Musk’s Starlink to access its low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations is about to bear fruit. The telco is offering enterprise customers several packages. One is “Starlink On The Move”, where you access the LEO satellite service from a van or a caravan while on the go.

The second, “Starlink On Pause” lets customers use the service when they are stationary. Their service is paused when they are moving. There’s also a version for fixed use.

“For most businesses, fibre-based connectivity will serve most needs, but the addition of Starlink connectivity in our suite enables high-speed internet in the most remote parts of the country that might not be served effectively by existing technologies, says Telstra.

“Our Telstra Enterprise Starlink plans will offer up to 6TB of priority data per month, with unlimited standard data. In usual weather conditions, priority data means average speeds of around 40Mbps-220Mbps download and 8Mbps-25Mbps upload.”

The consumer package is a backup plan and is available from March. If a customer is using Starlink for voice, and they are within Telstra mobile coverage, the 4G mobile network can be used as back-up until Starlink satellite connectivity is restored. They get the same experience as a customer within its 4G network footprint.

King Island Microwave Connection

The fire tower at Mt Cowley, near Lorne

The fire tower at Mt Cowley, near Lorne`

Microwave transmission is old technology from the 1930s, with line-of-sight starting around the 1960s and 1970s. It therefore came as a surprise when Telstra announced it was using this technology for a super fast communications link from King Island in Bass Strait to the Victorian mainland. It runs north-south from Cape Wickham, at the northern tip of King Island, to Mt Cowley, west of Lorne, in Victoria – a distance of 116km.

Having a line-of-sight connection over such a long distance where the earth noticeable curves sounds difficult. But things are helped by the terrain. Mt Cowley on the mainland is 659 metres high. It’s a high point in the Otway Ranges, and it already has a very tall fire tower with microwave units attached to the side. Cape Wickham on King Island is the nation’s tallest lighthouse, at 48 metres high.

The big surprise is the speed of the Microwave connection, 9.8 Gigabits per second across Bass Strait, thanks to work by Ericsson who, says Telstra, developed “new and novel coding systems which allows that additional capacity and throughput”.

“The upgrade was made possible with the deployment of Ericsson’s MINI-LINK 6200 Long haul Microwave technology, providing essential backhaul support for the deployment of new Ericsson 5G mobile on the island, further helping Telstra expand its network and deliver better connectivity for regional Australia,” says Telstra.

Will the success of this lead to other Microwave connections being upgraded? The answer is “yes”, says Telstra. “With the support of this capability, Telstra plans to use Ericsson’s MINI-LINK 6200 Long haul Microwave solution to extend its mobile coverage in other remote areas,” the telco ssays.

The pace of life on King Island will go up a notch with the microwave link and 5G courtesy of Ericsson.

Cloud backup to take control if a network is down

The Optus outage taught us that we need a plan B when a network goes down. It’s an idea that Telstra has been pursuing, called “resilience”.

The telco has announced a resiliency trial in a collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Nokia. It involves supporting essential voice services on an ailing network by hosting it in AWS cloud.

“The trial will provide continuity of voice services during certain unplanned network interruptions, where the primary solution is not working correctly,” Telstra says.

But it warns that not all of the network would be supported. Essential elements would have priority such as emergency services. And don’t expect the system would work for all types of network outages, such as the Optus outage itself which was triggered at the network’s core.

“This is a backup network for catastrophic outage,” says Shailin Sehgal, in charge of network applications and cloud at Telstra. “And it’s basically an insurance that we are paying for.”

“Don’t expect us to deliver 100 per cent of the service,” he says. “Whatever we would do would be enough to be deemed as critical communications and business communication that we will allow to happen during that scenario.”

He also mentioned multi cloud capability. “We can spin a network on Azure, Microsoft or Google AWS,” he added.

Telstra says it is working with AWS and Nokia on expanding the trial beyond Voice over LTE to include a full-scale of network provided services.

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