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Science & Technology
Satellite Internet

Is the sky the limit?

By Diana J. Choyce
Sep 27 - Oct 03, 1999

Here's a familiar phrase for those of us who spend time on the Internet......Net Congestion! And we've all experienced it at one time or another. Some of us live with it most of the time! Busy phone lines, overloaded servers, and slow, agonizing downloads are an everyday headache. And if your business depends on the Internet, these problems could literally make you bankrupt. Within the next five years the Internet may be doing over 3 trillion dollars in commerce. How is it going to keep up with itself?

Companies are rushing to build whatever is necessary to keep their businesses competitive. They'll need tighter security, better system backups and redundancies. There's even talk of self-healing networks that catch a problem before a customer even knows its there. Keeping up with millions of dollars in transactions, twenty four hours a day, will be a huge and complex undertaking. And there are so many different aspects to handling the job. But what is at the root of all these needs? A stable Internet connection! Without a connection, nobody shops, nobody buys, nobody does business, and worst of all, nobody makes money.

Some would say the answer lies with better land based connections. But phone based dial up services are almost prehistoric. Cable connections are only available in highly populated areas. And the denser the population, the more the connections deteriorate. ISDN, DSL, and similar technologies also cannot be the whole answer. Most users are finding they are not as reliable or as cost effective as they first appeared. And companies are still fighting over what digital protocols should be used. Lastly, remote rural areas and developing countries seem to be lagging far behind in the rate of connections. These are the places that most need to be connected to the rest of the world. So, where does that leave us? With the Internet coming to us via satellite! One small dish, attached to the side of the house, bringing downloads at the speed of light! It's a surfers dream, and the beginnings of the technologies to acquire it are here and now.

As in all technologies it will take time to bring Satellite Internet to its full capacity. Both stationary and orbiting satellites are being proposed. Both will need a complex system to catch and return signals. And applications to cut down on time delays will be very important to its use. But in the long run, the end units will be small, affordable, and secure. The broadband applications will be incredible. Television, Internet, and Communications all on the same small dish. The cost to consumers will be in the same range as their present television dishes. In fact some companies are already offering Internet service. The cost to telecommunications companies could be well into the 10 billion dollar range and above. But these systems are so advanced, and so efficient, that they will be well worth the investment. Each satellite system will be able to handle millions of subscribers because it can channel capacity to where ever it is needed at a moments notice. This ability to service so many people at once will keep the cost per customer down. And it will give us all what the surveys say we want most...speed! E-Commerce companies will certainly find it a boon to their online businesses. More speed would mean more product, faster turnover, more customers, and of course more money. It would be very difficult for ground based systems to keep up with the sheer numbers. But adding satellite as an option, the numbers will increase and obliterate any speed bumps on the information highway.

Will the large telecommunications companies look to satellite as a viable option? Right now it appears that there are far more companies wanting to sell broadband communications, and far too few networks to carry their product. We must also look to the countries that have very stringent competition and monopoly laws. What better option for companies that cannot own or buy networks, in the areas where they want to do business? Satellite networks could be the perfect expansion and investment solution. Some analysts believe satellites will come to serve over 20 percent of broadband communication subscribers in the near future.

Some of the companies who have already taken over the ground floor include Loral Orion. In partner with Natelco, they have already opened high-speed Internet access via satellite to and from India for business clients, Internet service providers, and software development firms. In the United States, the FCC has granted system development licenses to Loral, Hughes, Motorola and Teledesic. Most of these companies have already launched systems and are marketing them all over the world. Is Satellite Internet the lone answer we've all been waiting to find? Well it's a very good option, but only in tandem with land based services can we expect to see the Internet keep up with itself over the next 20 years. Then again, the way technology is growing by leaps and bounds, perhaps in 20 years they will all be replaced with...well who knows? Is the sky the limit? Probably not.