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<nettime> hegener on internet unwired
Geert Lovink on Sun, 21 Dec 1997 20:38:21 +0100 (MET)


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<nettime> hegener on internet unwired


From: mh {AT} nrc.nl (Michiel Hegener)

[posted on nettime with the permission of the author. g.]


                                 Internet Unwired


                       By Michiel Hegener, Journalist.

           Appeared in the Sept.-Oct. issue of 'OnTheInternet', the
                      magazine of the Internet Society.

          See also: http://www.iicd.org/articles/articles.htm

          Just two or three years after the Internet really took
          off, it is already commonplace to say that the world is
          being swept by a telecommunications revolution; so we
          shan't say it. It is a valid question, though, to ask
          what is meant by the world in this particular case,
          because hundreds of millions of people in less
          well-to-do parts of it have never heard of
          datacommunications, let alone what it could do for them.
          Something to worry about? Very much so.

          Information and communication technology (ICT or IT)-the
          Internet in particular-has a huge potential to sweep
          away poverty and ignorance, which is a far more
          interesting application than sweeping the world as such
          or keeping shareholders happy. This article is not about
          proving that ICT can serve as a powerful engine for
          economic growth in underdeveloped regions-thousands of
          examples can be found on the World Wide Web-but it may
          be worth noting that that idea is now getting widely
          accepted.

          Last June in Toronto, at the world conference called
          Global Knowledge '97, cohosted by the World Bank and the
          government of Canada, United Nations secretary-general
          Kofi Annan said, "What is so thrilling about our time is
          that the privilege of information is now an instant and
          globally accessible privilege. It is our duty and
          responsibility to see that gift bestowed on all the
          world's people, so that all may live lives of knowledge
          and understanding." Among the 1,500 attendees listening
          to those words were many representatives of the very
          countries where the biggest gains can be made. Several
          of the donor countries, too, are becoming keenly aware
          that ICT is not a luxury but a necessity [1].

          Leading the pack, the World Bank has really embraced the
          idea that the way to basic prosperity and justice for
          all is paved partly with ICT. That doesn't necessarily
          mean a fiber-optic cable running under the pavement;
          satellites overhead might do just as well-in some
          respects even better and, above all, quicker. Although
          only a very small part of our planet has been wired so
          far, every place on earth has Internet access via
          satellite: a PC, a dish antenna and some equipment in
          between are all that's needed to hook up straight to an
          Internet backbone, even if you live in a tiny village in
          the middle of Mali or Myanmar. However, for the
          individual end user or even for a small business, the
          price of a very-small-aperture terminal (VSAT) and the
          tariff per kilobyte sent or received are quite
          prohibitive, certainly in the poorer regions of the
          world.

          Additionally, in many countries, licenses for the use of
          wireless communications are hard to get, if they can be
          gotten at all. In spite of that, a VSAT is a viable
          solution for larger companies and organizations as well
          as for Internet service providers in developing
          countries. For instance, about a dozen African ISPs now
          have their own dedicated satellite links, including a 3-
          or 4-meter dish antenna on their premises [2]. The dish
          is trained or a geostationary-earth-orbit satellite
          (GEO) at 35,786 kilometers (22,187 miles) above the
          equator, which relays the signals to and from a ground
          station somewhere in the West that is directly linked to
          an Internet backbone. The big disadvantage of such a
          line in the sky of fixed throughput-usually a few
          hundred kilobits per second-is the waste of bandwidth
          that occurs at night and the shortage of it during peak
          hours.

          The good news amid all of the limitations is that
          satellite service providers and satellite builders-often
          closely linked, by the way-are becoming very keen on
          reaching end users directly, and new technologies enable
          them to do so in an affordable way. They realize that
          there is a huge demand for high-speed Internet
          connections and that only satellites can deliver them
          quickly to the unwired parts of the world. Where good
          telephone lines or even ISDN is readily available, the
          new satellite services have a lot to offer as well: high
          speed means we are talking hundreds of kilobits per
          second uplink, and downlinks of a few megabits.

          Future users of these direct-to-home interactive
          satellite broadband services owe a debt to the present
          users of direct-to-home satellite television, a
          phenomenon that has given tremendous impetus to the
          entire satellite industry. One of the spin-offs is a
          huge amount of research into new technologies; another
          is enough money for the initial, or even the entire,
          funding of the new, interactive broadband services.
          Beware: a few years from now you will need to spend only
          $1,000-$2,000 on equipment to get your own high-speed
          Internet link. Transmission costs may drop to about a
          cent per megabyte. And there will be a whole range of
          dedicated satellite systems to choose from: more than a
          dozen if all the plans proposed so far become reality.
          Starting about the year 2000, every square meter of our
          planet will be showered with connectivity. No strings
          attached. Or are there?

          Before taking a closer look at some of the plans, let's
          investigate certain basics that apply to them all. There
          are several ways to get the prices down in order to
          reach the end user. As no one will be interested in
          paying thousands of dollars a month for a 64- or
          256-kilobit leased channel 24 hours a day, access to the
          satellite has to be demand assigned. If you want to send
          out just a short e-mail message, a few kilobits during
          less than a second is all you need. When you want to
          search the Web for a while, a 64-kilobit channel would
          be more suitable. And online viewing of a piece of video
          might require more than a megabit. When mowing the lawn
          or hiking in the Adirondacks, most users would select
          zero bits a second, but they would certainly choose a
          standby downlink option-if the system offered one-so any
          incoming e-mail would go straight to them and not to
          their ISP first. In all cases, you will pay as you go,
          like you are now doing with your electricity. Apart from
          such demand-assigned, multiple-access techniques,
          frequency reuse is another way to bring down the cost of
          the links, because radiospectrum is scarce and
          expensive.

          Most of the present 250-odd civilian geostationary
          telecommunications satellites have dish antennae that
          cover half a continent or more. Now, for broadcasting
          that's fine: casting a signal out over a broad area is
          precisely what you want. But if a satellite sends out a
          signal to just one VSAT, the frequency used is for some
          time unavailable to others within the entire footprint,
          like half or the whole of Latin America. With today's
          level of VSAT use that is tenable, but it isn't when you
          want to send many, many different high-bandwidth signals
          to many, many users at the same time-for instance, when
          every Tom, Dick, and Harry is surfing the Web. Therefore
          the new, interactive broadband satellite systems will
          sport many small antenna beams with slightly overlapping
          footprints of a few hundred kilometers across, together
          covering very large areas. One and the same frequency
          can then be used in various spot beams at the same time,
          provided they don't overlap.

          The problem here is that you need complex onboard
          switching techniques between the beams. In spite of
          frequency reuse techniques like this one, the new,
          interactive satellite services still need astonishing
          amounts of radiospectrum-so much that almost all are
          forced to use the very high frequencies of the Ka-band:
          between 20 and 30 gigahertz-the spectrum equivalent of
          the American West in the 19th century. "Go Ka-band,
          young man," a senior satellite engineer might say these
          days.

          Dangers lurking behind the hardly charted hills all have
          to do with difficult technology, which is of course why
          the seniors didn't go there themselves. Also, at 30
          gigahertz the length of one wave cycle is just 1
          millimeter, which makes the whole wave-carrying the Web
          page you just requested-very vulnerable to raindrops,
          like a mouse running over a field littered with rat-size
          rocks. The meteorological hazards can be negotiated to
          an extent by the Internet transfer control protocol, but
          when it starts raining real hard, as happens often in
          tropical regions, you are bound to suffer a complete
          outage. One possibility is a temporary boosting of the
          transmission power in the spot beam, which covers bad
          weather-another advantage of multiple spot beams. For
          the uplink, though, that doesn't help. A stronger
          transmitter and a bigger antenna do, but then of course
          the hardware price will be boosted as well. So, one of
          the biggest challenges for those who have joined the
          race is to develop really affordable user kits-VSATs
          essentially.

          A lot of the money for a present-day VSAT is spent on a
          strong transmitter. It has to be, because geostationary
          satellites are so far away: lower than 35,786 kilometers
          they orbit the Earth in less than the 23 hours and 56
          minutes the Earth needs to turn on its axis and they'd
          therefore no longer be geostationary. The huge advantage
          of these fixed satellite positions is of course that you
          can use dish antennae that are just as fixed-to your
          roof, for instance. One advantage of the Ka-band is that
          to get the same results, smaller and therefore cheaper
          dishes than for lower frequencies can be used.

          Equipping the satellite with more-sensitive receiving
          facilities also contributes to a cheaper kit for the end
          user. A much more dramatic move is to lower the
          satellites: to reach a satellite 800 kilometers above
          you requires about 1/2000 of the power needed to get the
          signal to the geostationary arc. At 800 kilometers, a
          satellite orbits earth in less than 2 hours, so instead
          of dish antennae you need omnidirectional ones which
          wastes a lot of transmission power. There are other
          complexities as well-and other advantages. Phased-array
          antennae-though technologically still in their
          infancy-will offer an alternative before too long.

          The best-known low-earth-orbit (LEO) broadband satellite
          system is Teledesic, of the Teledesic Corporation,
          founded by Bill Gates and Craig McCaw as long ago as
          1990. Indeed, there are very few others, as most players
          intend to use GEOs. Teledesic was publicly announced in
          March 1994. Although the looks and the design of the
          satellites still needed some attention, their sheer
          number-840-was immediately alive and kicking, blazing a
          broad trail of awe through the telecommunications world
          and impressing would-be end users around the globe.
          Those users may have been a little disappointed when it
          was announced last April that the fleet size would be
          trimmed down to just 288 satellites plus 36 on orbit
          spares, while their orbit altitude went up from 785 to
          more than 1,300 kilometers. The change followed shortly
          after the announcement that aircraft manufacturer Boeing
          had been selected as the main contractor for building
          the fleet. Both Teledesic and Boeing are based in the
          Seattle conurbation, as indeed is Microsoft, whose
          chairman provided part of the seed capital-some tens of
          millions of dollars. Representatives of Microsoft and
          Teledesic insist there is no formal link between the two
          companies. And though $9 billion will be needed to get
          Teledesic up and running, Gates and McCaw have promised
          not to pay that amount out of their own deep pockets. As
          Teledesic president Russell Daggatt says quite
          significantly, "On the investment side, Bill and Craig
          will eventually get diluted down to insignificance."

          The high number of satellites is needed to make sure
          that no matter where you are, you always have at least
          one at more than 40 degrees above the horizon. The
          reason has a lot to do with the system's availability
          during adverse weather conditions: the signals have to
          struggle through only a rather thin slice of the
          atmosphere if the satellite is more or less above the
          earth station-your antenna and transceiver, that is. The
          use of phased-array antennae on the satellites as well
          as on the ground is another way to boost Teledesic's
          capacity. Phased array essentially means you can direct
          the signal by means of electronic steering, without
          moving parts and instantaneously. So, when online, the
          parabolic, mushroom-shaped antenna on your roof will
          always follow one of the satellites as they move across
          the sky. The satellite, in the meantime, will train its
          multiple phased-array spot beams on fixed grid cells on
          the surface, including the one from which you are
          operating. As soon as another satellite gets closer to
          you, the signal will be handed over automatically. By
          using intersatellite links, Teledesic needs in theory
          only a few large gateway earth stations to interface
          with terrestrial networks, including Internet backbones.
          For regulatory and economic reasons, however, there will
          be close cooperation with local service providers-a
          policy that will translate into at least one gateway in
          each country that allows the use of Teledesic.

          GEO service providers rely on a lot of proven
          technology, but Teledesic has chosen not to follow the
          beaten track. As Daggatt puts it, "Ten years ago LEOs
          were impossible. Today it's a challenge. Ten years from
          now, no big deal."

          A good overview of the coming Ka-band systems in the
          March 1997 issue of Via Satellite reported that
          Teledesic was under "ongoing criticism from its
          competition regarding the system's feasibility," which
          is surprising, because you'd expect any infeasibilities
          to be a source of relief and delight to the other
          contenders. However, scarcity of available spectrum, of
          which Teledesic needs quite a slice-1 gigahertz-lends
          the criticism some justification. If Teledesic flops,
          the world will have suffered a waste of spectrum, which
          will also be the case, of course, if any other fleet
          flops. Some almost certainly will: that is one of the
          near certainties in this whole endeavor. There are just
          too many plans.

          Part of the Teledesic technology still hasn't been
          sorted out, but the same is true, to a lesser degree,
          for the GEO systems. All Ka-band systems still need a
          lot of research and engineering if they want to be
          really affordable, which is what they all want. In the
          meantime, a LEO network has at least two big advantages
          over GEOs. One is far more even coverage of the globe,
          especially when the satellites follow near-polar orbits,
          as is the case with Teledesic. You then get an orbital
          pattern that resembles the dividing lines between the
          parts of a peeled orange while the rotation of the Earth
          is doing the rest. Although this model brings most
          connectivity to the polar regions and has the lowest
          satellite density around the equator (see orange), it is
          utterly egalitarian otherwise. Most important, it
          doesn't favor prosperous areas-a characteristic that
          should please all who agree with the sentiment, quoted
          earlier, of Kofi Annan.

          Each Teledesic cell-whether on Manhattan or in the depth
          of the Amazon basin-has a diameter of 80 kilometers and
          a capacity of 64 Mbps in each direction. It should be
          added that cells can and sometimes will be shut off. "We
          certainly would not allow service in a territory where
          the government doesn't allow it," says Daggatt. That
          must be bad news for the inhabitants of Tibet, Eastern
          Timor, and Southern Sudan, to mention a few areas where
          the population isn't as loyal as the central authorities
          would like. Worse news even: it looks as if all other
          systems intend to behave just as obediently. Given the
          great expectations that the Internet has raised for the
          cause of freedom and democracy-buzzwords at Global
          Knowledge '97 really-it is a pity to see how the whims
          of all sorts of undemocratic regimes will be nicely
          catered to by tomorrow's Internet satellite operators.
          In fairness, it should also be said that their
          cooperation is rooted in both the noble wish not to
          bypass local telecom operators without official consent
          and the sound marketing policy needed to be successful
          at all. As Ron Maehl, president of CyberStar, the GEO
          system of Loral Space and Communications, puts it, "We
          will comply with all the local policies. We are not
          trying to make a political statement, but we are
          providing a communications service." For some readers
          belonging to resistance and rebel movements, this dark
          cloud has a silver lining: whereas LEO systems can very
          precisely locate a certain user-by measuring Doppler
          effects-a GEO system knows only in which spot beam the
          user is sitting. In the case of CyberStar those beams
          are about 200 kilometers across, whereas the beams of
          the GEO system of Hughes Communications, called
          Spaceway, will measure 650 kilometers on the ground. A
          beam that covers a part of, say, northern Kenya, may
          well spill across the border, where it can be used by
          the Sudan People's Liberation Army if the army pays its
          bills on time-or has them paid by associates in the
          West, which is a more likely scenario.

          All players in this field like to stress how beneficial
          their services will be for developing countries, even
          though their public relations material is usually a bit
          thin on detail. But in fact only the providers of LEO
          systems will reach the entire globe-not so much because
          they are saints, but because that is inherent in LEOs.
          On the other hand, the multiple spot beams of Ka-band
          GEOs won't reach every corner of the earth. When asked,
          both Ron Maehl of CyberStar and Edward Fitzpatrick, vice
          president of Spaceway, said they would go for the most
          promising markets first. As Fitzpatrick said, "We will
          put the capacity where the market is-where it is needed
          most. The first satellite will be launched in the latter
          part of 1999. We are focused on North America and Asia.
          Those will probably be followed not much later by Europe
          and Latin America. We haven't made a hard decision on
          that point, but that is the current prespective. The
          whole U.S. will be covered; Europe too; but in Africa
          and Latin America it will be more selective rather than
          ubiquitous." (For elaboration of the geography of
          satellite communications, see "Internet, Satellites, and
          Economic Development" in the Sept./Oct. 1996 issue of
          OnTheInternet).

          A second big advantage of LEOs stems from their
          proximity to the Earth compared with that of GEOs. When
          you are online via a GEO and browsing the Web by
          clicking your mouse, the signal will have to travel
          about 80,000 kilometers to get to the Web page itself,
          plus another 80,000 to bring back the result. Given the
          speed of radio signals-300,000 Kilometers per
          second-that means you will have to wait half a second
          after each click to see a change on your monitor-not
          disastrous, but not very handy either. The same delay
          may result in disaster, though, when you're in a pinball
          competition with someone who is online via LEO or cable.
          Furthermore, the half-second delay is not conducive to
          smooth videoconferencing or voice
          conversations-certainly not to smooth interruptions. The
          defendants of GEO systems maintain that this constitutes
          about all of the damage the delay of their satellites
          will cause; the LEO people will of course say there is a
          lot more to it than that. Whatever the case, all of this
          matters a great deal. No one wants to bet on the wrong
          horse. The stakes can be high-for instance, for
          organizations, companies, or ISPs in developing
          countries that consider buying a VSAT in order to
          replace a leased line and get broader Internet access.
          What to do if they gather that GEOs are no good for
          high-speed Internet? Wait till 2002, when, hopefully,
          Teledesic becomes available? Or is the geostationary
          delay nothing compared to delaying their plans? Who will
          tell them the truth?

          In order to make an attempt to see who is right, we'll
          have to descend into a muddy mix of propagation delays
          and default TCP buffer sizes. While keeping your breath,
          keep thinking of the bottom line: whatever the
          arguments, consumers will eventually decide for
          themselves what they like best. And maybe you should
          also keep your ISOC membership card ready, because this
          is an issue the society ought to keep an eye on. In
          essence, it is simple: after a certain number of bytes,
          TCP wants acknowledgment that they arrived well-and will
          retransmit damaged packets if necessary. If there is a
          geostationary satellite between two routers, it takes
          just over a quarter of a second before the load of bytes
          arrives on earth again. A similar amount of time passes
          before confirmation reaches the sender, which will then
          proceed by sending a new load. Hence, the top
          per-secondspeed of a TCP/IP link via GEO is about 1.65
          (1:0.6) times the number of bytes sent at a time. The
          maximum size of this buffer is 65,536 bytes, which means
          that TCP/IP can reach a top speed of about 865 kilobits
          per second over a GEO. That much is certain. It is also
          a fact, though apparently a bit less preordained, that a
          buffer size of 8 kilobytes is usually used-for instance,
          in Windows 95 and Windows NT. That reduces the top speed
          to 106 kilobits per second: quite attractive today, but
          probably not tomorrow. According to a white paper about
          latency-another word for the round trip delay-which can
          be found at Teledesic's Web site, "Using a small buffer
          wasn't just an oversight. Small buffers can improve
          performance in many common circumstances, such as when
          one computer serves many users simultaneously (e.g., a
          popular Web server)." So, is Spaceway creating false
          hopes by announcing that its system will offer a
          384-kilobit TCP/IP uplink? Or is CyberStar, which offers
          similar speeds? Says Maehl, "We can send at 600 kilobits
          per second and still be consistent with the TCP/IP
          protocol." Fitzpatrick is equally adamant: "There are
          some challenges, and they are easily overcome. TCP/IP
          can be dealt with effectively." And so is John
          Stevenson, manageer of transmission engineering at
          Intelsat, which owns the world's largest fleet of GEOs:
          "The differences between satellite and terrestrial are
          very minor, and they certainly shouldn't be allowed to
          turn away people to have no Internet access other than
          by satellite. They are led to believe that GEOs don't
          work. It is quite the opposite. They work quite well,
          and in one hop you get to the Internet backbone."

          Intelsat-an international consortium with 141 member
          countries-prides itself in having carried lots of
          Internet traffic since the very beginning, when the
          Internet was still ARPANET. Almost all Internet traffic
          to and from Africa, for instance, goes via Intelsat: via
          proprietary VSATs or via lines leased from the local PTT
          that lead to an Intelsat gateway earth station. Only
          Djibouti, North Africa, and South Africa have cable
          links to the rest of the world. The Internet takes up an
          ever more central place in the Intelsat business plan,
          whereas Stevenson and other engineers devote a lot of
          research to the pros and cons of TCP/IP via GEO. One of
          the best outcomes of this appears to be the pairing of
          TCP/IP and frame-relay-based multiplexing. According to
          Stevenson, frame relay is highly complementary to
          TCP/IP. High speeds can be achieved by taking some
          special measures. The high speed is achieved by taking
          some special measures. Increasing the buffer size can be
          one. But when sending your story about life in Rio all
          the way to the ISP of your aunt Maud in Liverpool, some
          other routers using 8-kilobyte buffers stand in the way.
          A better trick is the use of an overlay protocol , which
          kind of fools TCP by saying all the time that no packets
          were damaged, while keeping stock of the ones that were.
          All retransmissions can then be done at the end of the
          session.

          Both methods reduce the transparancy of the GEO link to
          the rest of the Internet, but to what extent? And who is
          paying what price for the speeding-up maneuvers? Daggatt
          says, "The whole point of the Internet is moving away
          from application-specific networks and proprietary
          networks in favor of open, public networks-where even
          private networks will be virtual private networks
          operating over the public networks-with common
          protocols, that is, TCP/IP." Stevenson says, "We are
          definitely interested in collaborating with people to
          improve the situation. We don't think it is ideal, but
          today you can do an awful lot of Internet-based
          application via GEO with the protocols as they stand.
          There will be a lot of pressure from users to have
          TCP/IP with a larger default buffer size. There is
          nothing preordained in this." But according to Daggatt
          something is: "The GEO guys say, 'You can modify the
          protocol.' But if you modify the protocol, the party at
          the other end has to modify it, too. The whole world has
          to change. And if you optimize it for a high
          latency-network, for GEO, it is suboptimal for the
          ground."

          At least two advantages of GEOs over LEOs deserve
          mention. GEOs may be a lot more expensive than LEOs, but
          in theory you need only three of them to cover the
          globe, instead of 60-300 as with LEOs. Note that the
          equation should include infrastructure on the ground.
          Either a LEO network is very expensive because you need
          intersatellite links or, not having them, a lot of
          funding is needed for many gateway earth stations to
          interface with terrestrial networks because LEOs are
          short-sighted.

          All in all, Teledesic is about two or three times as
          costly as the average GEO system. Even though all
          parties are shooting for a hardware price of
          $1000-$2000, those parties all are cagey-maybe
          ignorant-about transmission costs. If the GEOs will be
          cheapest, as you'd expect, that will be something to
          reckon with. How much are we willing to pay for low
          latency? That may well be the question. Not for Daggatt,
          who expects, "We figure our end-user cost will be about
          one-quarter that of the GEOs. So, the better performance
          of a low-latency LEO link does not require a cost
          premium-just the opposite." We'll see. If he's right,
          the people behind the GEO systems would be damn foolish
          if they didn't immediately cancel all their plans.

          The second advantage of GEOs is that they are good at
          casting data out over entire continents because they're
          so high up. As Fitzpatrick sees it, "The whole Internet
          experience will evolve very dramatically in the next few
          years. The multimedia machines people have in their
          homes will be able to store huge amounts on the hard
          drive: 20 gigabytes in 2000." In other words, magazines,
          statistics, schoolbooks, pizza recipies, encyclopedias,
          weather forecasts, and travel warnings can all be
          digitized and sent to millions of end users at once and
          at very high speeds. All of that and more will reach
          your dish antenna. Courtesy of a preselection option and
          hard thinking on your part, your receiver will ignore
          everything except a few magazines about pet rodents, the
          proceedings of the Perry Como Appreciation Society, and
          pizza recipies containing oregano. In addition, the user
          can order specific long files, which should arrive a
          split second later at high speed. In developed and
          well-wired regions, these data-casting techniques will
          even take up a predominant place in the broadband
          satellite systems. As Maehl sees it, "In developing
          countries, the satellites will go much closer in the
          network to the end user. You may have more people with
          dishes that actually do two-way communication. There it
          will be a primary means of communication, as opposed to
          a bandwidth enhancer."

          The GEO/LEO debate apparently still needs some time to
          draw to a conclusion, though everybody seems ready to
          agree that both have at least some inherent advantages.
          Such seemed to be the state of affairs when on June
          17-presto-Motorola announced Celestri, a $12.9-billion
          plan for 63 LEOs at an altitude of some 1,500
          kilometers, fully integrated with a smaller fleet of
          GEOs. If that weren't enough, a day later an alliance
          was announced between SkyBridge, the $3.5-billion 64-LEO
          constellation of the French company Alcatel, and the
          $1.6-billion CyberStar GEO system-even though it wasn't
          immediately clear whether the name of the new venture
          was going to be CyberStar/SkyBridge or SkyStar or
          CyberBridge. Says Maehl, "Right now we are not planning
          any GEO/LEO links because we don't see a product that is
          more efficiently created by having them. The LEOs won't
          have links either. It is typically a last-mile system:
          high-speed, two-way communications for end users and get
          them into the network."

          With so many participants in the race to interactive
          broadband satellite services, this is not the place to
          describe all their differences or-an even bigger
          subject-what they have in common. The overview in has
          already been mentioned; but don't forget to remove page
          58, because AT&T's bid, VoiceSpan, has recently been
          withdrawn. Also, most plans have a good Web site;see the
          hyperlink version of this article.

          One thing to bear in mind is that almost all important
          players in the satellite world are aware of the
          exploding global demand for high-bandwidth Internet
          connections and of their ability to meet at least some
          of that demand. Various satellite TV providers, for
          instance, have serious plans. One is the
          Luxembourg-based Soci=E8t=E8 Europ=E8enne des Satellites,
          otherwise known as ASTRA, which has chosen the typical
          scenario of data casting first and becoming interactive
          a couple of years later. In the first phase, you still
          need your terrestrial Internet link to order the long
          files, which should reach your PC fast and cheap an
          instant later via an ASTRA satellite and your dish
          antenna. While copycats are crowding the rooftops, the
          credit for thinking up that model of triple Internet
          connections-low-speed symmetrical terrestrial access
          plus a high-speed satellite downlink for long files-goes
          to Hughes Network Systems, which introduced its 400 Kbps
          Internet downlink system DirecPC a few years ago in the
          United States and this year in Europe.

          Intelsat is also seeking ways to reach the end user. In
          fact, what makes the likes of Teledesic, Spaceway,
          CyberStar, and Astrolink-the $3.75-billion GEO plan of
          satellite builder Lockheed Martin-so special can be done
          by others as well-to an extent at least-and quicker if
          they have their assets in place, like 24 satellites in
          the case of Intelsat. After all, no end user is really
          interested in the difference between LEO or GEO, between
          Ka-band and other bands, between satellite and cable.
          What end users are interested in is simply performance,
          hardware retail prices, transmission costs, and, first
          and foremost, whether a system is available or not.

          Footnotes / References

          [1] Some countries which have already given a more or
          less prominent place to ICT in their program for
          development cooperation are: Canada, Great Britain,
          Netherlands, United States, Sweden and Switzerland.
          [Back]

          [2] Here are some examples of African ISP's which hook
          up to the Internet backbone via satellite: Ghana and
          Uganda.
          [Back]


Last modified: 28 August, 1997.
(C) Michiel Hegener
P.O. Box 11586
2502 AN The Hague
The Netherlands
information {AT} iicd.org


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