The Next Wavelength: Satellite Broadband Becomes Personal
The U.S. is a bit behind the eight ball in spreading its two-way satellite technology to businesses and individuals in rural areas, for whom connectivity has been hit and miss, at best. Europe, Asia, even Africa and South America have had access to satellite broadband for a few years. In rural areas of Asia, Africa, and South American, satellite broadband has been an essential tool for improving healthcare.
But satellite broadband has been slow to grow in the U.S., which is why, last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service awarded $100 million to four companies to provide access to satellite broadband to rural areas.
Hughes Network Systems received more than half of the grant money and it has been given approval to establish nationwide rural-broadband projects. The other three companies - ViaSat Inc.'s WildBlueEchoStar XI Operating LLC Communications, and Spacenet - received grants to establish rural regional consumer broadband service.
Personal broadband satellite antennas are usually lightweight, so you can even take them into the fields if you're a farmer, or work outside in other settings.
Here's a graphic showing how satellite broadband operates. Once the signal goes from the earth station to the satellite, it is relayed to another earth station that is connected with the Internet.
Satellite service is said to be as fast as cable broadband, which makes it much faster than DSL. Once you send a message, however, there is definitely a pause before it launches and the same slight glitch is there when downloading information. For this reason, Internet gaming is not much fun on satellite broadband.
For about the same price as cable broadband, you can get a monthly satellite connection for your PC or MAC, which makes sense if you are unable to connect from home any other way. For example, Hughesnet has a special running this month for $39.90 for a 200 MB daily download limit, accommodating 1.0 Mbps/128 Kbps, which comes with 5 email accounts and spam and virus filtering. There are more costly monthly fees for bigger downloads and faster speed.
It is rumored that satellite broadband connections can be interrupted by the weather. It is really only the severest storm that can interrupt satellite service; but that is a potential for electricity and for cable broadband as well. The other drawback is that service is not too great at the North and South Poles.
For businesses located in rural areas, it would seem that 2-way satellite broadband is a must if other connections are not available. There are many different kinds of set-ups, depending on how many computers are networked and the connection speed that's desired. But, whether you are a small business with several users or an individual household, your setup will contain a modem - perhaps a hub for several users - and a relatively small satellite dish (12 - 22 inches) outside your premises in a place that has no interference between it and the sky (like overhanging tree branches, for example).
Communications media has been using satellite broadband for many years; you will probably recognize the type of equipment in the photo below. The top-of-vehicle dish arrangement is also used by various field investigators, be they archaeologists or law enforcement, and by health care workers in remote areas of the globe. Combined with a satellite phone, the car dish ensures quality phone communication.
In the U.S., most satellite telephones are used by emergency personnel, government agencies, air and space agencies, and maritime workers. While globally, the satellite phone is being rapidly adopted for personal use, it's not the in thing yet, except among those who need it professionally. But the satellite mobile phone offers reliable communication of both voice and data.
The satellite phone is predicted to be the phone of the future, soon to replace the cell phone as the desirable technology. Some personal mobile phones are being designed with both cell and satellite technologies right now. They are a lot more expensive than cell phones, but the more mobile satellite technology is advanced, the greater the competition, the less expensive the price, and the 'smarter' they'll be. And very soon, several airlines will be permitting satellite phone use during travel.