• United States

Satellite broadband update

Feb 09, 20043 mins
Unified Communications

Faster services are coming, cheaper services are here

Space is cool again, right? We’re driving robots around Mars, and the President wants NASA to put people on the moon again. So why not get our Internet service from space?

Satellite TV has many customers (including me), but not so many use satellite service for broadband. In the past, there were two good reasons: cost and the need for a telephone line for upstream communications. But today, you can get two-way satellite service or lower cost satellite service. But not yet both.

With two-way service, the dish – which you attach to your home and aim toward a satellite in the southern sky – now includes a transmitter and a receiver. One connection handles all your Internet traffic coming and going, for a monthly price around $60 for basic service. Existing satellite TV customers need to install a second dish, but providers offer TV and broadband bundles with discount pricing. 

The bad news is that two-way systems cost a fair amount up front. The two providers, DirecWay and StarBand, charge from $500 to $900 for installation, depending on models and services. But you can offset the cost over time by dropping your second phone line. Both providers also offer payment plans.

Downstream speeds range from 400K bit/sec to 500K bit/sec; upstream speeds are about 40K bit/sec, comparable to a dial-up connection. Some two-way products provide higher upstream speeds (100K bit/sec “turbo mode”) at a higher cost. Business systems also offer higher speeds.

WildBlue Communications, a new player that plans to launch later this year, says it will offer higher speeds – 1.5M bit/sec downstream and 256K bit/sec upstream – at affordable prices. Specific pricing hasn’t been announced. 

There is a lower-cost alternative available today. Now that the market is moving to two-way satellite, the old one-way service has dropped in price. Westband Networks offers one-way satellite service of up to 500K bit/sec for $150 upfront. Although the technology is technically obsolete, Westband probably won’t stop selling or supporting one-way service any time soon.

One note for telecommuters: VPNs often conflict with the batching transmissions used by satellites. If you use a VPN to connect to corporate servers, think carefully before you sign on the satellite dotted line. While DirecWay doesn’t block VPN connections, it exempts them from support, configuration or troubleshooting help.

If you’re one of the 9.5 million homes or small offices in the U.S. and Canada (WildBlue claims the number is 30 million), or 12.1 million in Western Europe who will not get any other type of broadband service for years, satellite could be your only choice.

Next time, we’ll look at wireless broadband services.