Aug 14 2012
By Fred Hoot - Google+
Over a year ago, I wrote an article on what to expect when you get your first DSL line. I received untold grief from city-dwellers and Silicon Valley types who were skeptical about someone getting a “slow” DSL line. I even mentioned 56 Kbps dial-up and was accused of living in the Stone Age and a lot of other things that I could not print.
I hate to do this again, but there are still many people who believe that 56 Kbps dial-up is a vast improvement over slower speeds. And that is only when they are finally able to establish a 56 Kbps connection. 56 Kbps dial-up service became available in Northern California around 15 years ago and is still a mainstay of remote rural areas. Some places are such a long distance from the CO (Central Office) that they cannot support even 56 Kbps and get a slower connection speed.
Due to the remote location and/or rough terrain, many rural areas had basic POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) that may or may not support even dial-up services. Until recently, these people who live in rural areas not served by DSL service had very few alternatives. Satellite Internet was just not available to them.
Yes, it was physically possible to receive satellite signals, but not many companies wanted to support the rural areas. Those who tried found it very difficult to make a financially profitable venture.
Many satellite companies just didn’t want to travel to remote areas to install and support base equipment. Small, local telcos and ISPs have in the past tried to offer high-speed internet satellite and have found small antennas combined with weak signals that could not penetrate cloud cover contributed to unhappy customers who dropped the service. Combined with hefty equipment and installation charges, very few customers adopted it.
For those who did keep the satellite service, the local ISPs had long travel times for on-site service calls. Delivery of replacement parts and adequate service personnel added to the cost of keeping the rudimentary Internet services up and running.
On top of all of this, the more affordable satellite Internet services were, and still are, slow. For instance STARBAND has a $50 monthly plan that supplies a download speed of just 512 Kbps. The upload speed is just 100 Kbps. Additionally, not all satellite services are available in all rural locations.
That is now changing as investments in multi-billion dollar communications satellites like the Hughes EchoStar XVII, the SES-4 and the Space Systems/Loral Intelsat 19 satellites become more commonplace. These new and powerful satellites provide one part of the solution. The expense of these magnificent beasts usually restricted their use to corporations and government agencies that could afford to pay for the services offered.
Another part of the solution is the federal government. With the passing of the Recovery act, funds were allocated to bring high-speed Internet services to rural areas.
WildBlue is one of the companies that took advantage of these funds over a year ago and offered a subsidized satellite Internet connection of 1 Mbps download speeds for around $40 a month. They offer the “WildBlue Recovery Act Package [which] offers free installation, no monthly equipment lease fees, no equipment purchases and no activation fees.”
In June of this year, WildBlue partnered with Exede and offered a 12 Mbps download and a 3 Mbps upload satellite Internet service using the ViaSat-1 satellite in some areas.
Frontier Communications saw the satellite Internet service was suitable for many of their rural customers who were not able to get DSL service due to their distance from the CO. By partnering with satellite services provider Hughes, they are offering their customers HughesNet Gen4 services that use “Hughes EchoStar XVII Satellite with JUPITER™ High-Throughput Technology” to provide high-speed Internet connectivity.
In remote rural areas, there is a big temptation by ISPs and satellite service providers to slack off on the service, particularly when their customer base is spread out over a large area. This is especially true with remote communities that received service in a sales blitz several years ago.
As the equipment aged, problems developed, connectors became corroded and alignment issues due to building settling became troublesome. Providing for individual service calls across vast distances is expensive, so many ISPs put off service until the problems escalate to the point of degrading the company reputation.
Marcia Ottoman of Chelsea, Michigan had such a problem with HughesNet satellite Internet service. She finally contacted Call For Action, a program run by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 in Detroit. They were able to persuade HughesNet to correct the problem and reimburse her for loss of service.
When it comes to really bad service, remember that the squeaky wheel gets the attention.
What the Future Brings
Next generation satellites are already in development. In fact, Intelsat just completed development on its next generation EpicNG communications satellite. This new satellite design allows deeper penetration through cloud cover and uses spot beams in addition to wide beam coverage to achieve higher speeds than are currently possible.
The use of smaller antennas is also possible, making for a less expensive field equipment cost. The development of better field equipment, especially equipment that can handle extremes of temperature, will mean lower maintenance costs.
The first satellite based on the EpicNG design, Intelsat 29e is scheduled for a 2015 launch. The next, Intelsat 33e, is expected to be launched in 2016.
Eventually I see technology that will be capable of providing 100 Mbps through 1 Gbps speeds to the end user through the future generations of satellites. What do you see?
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