European broadband Internet satellite launched

A satellite designed to offer two-way high-speed Internet service across all of Europe was launched late Saturday aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

E-Bird, which will be operated by Paris-based Eutelsat SA, was one of three satellites carried into orbit on Ariane flight 162. The rocket blasted off from the European Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, at 8:14pm local time (23:14 GMT) Saturday, operator Arianespace SA said in a statement. Also onboard was Insat-3E, an Indian telecommunications satellite, and Smart-1, a lunar probe owned by the European Space Agency.

E-Bird has been optimized for two-way broadband Internet service and can be accessed with a dish antenna of around one meter in diameter, according to Eutelsat.

The satellite carries a payload of 20 transponders that operate between 11GHz and 14.5GHz in the Ku band and has four downlink beams, or footprints. Four of the transponders will receive signals from users and connect via Eutelsat to the Internet while the other 16 transponders will handle downstream signals from the Internet to users, said Eutelsat.

Conventional satellite Internet service uses a telephone line for the generally low bandwidth connection from the user to the Internet and relies on the satellite to carry the higher-bandwidth downstream connection. This is because transmitting a signal to a satellite is more complicated and requires more expensive equipment than receiving a signal.

From its position in orbit above central Africa at 33 degrees east, its signal will cover all of the European Union (E.U.) and neighbouring countries, from Scandinavia to the north coast of Africa and from the Atlantic to eastern Europe and Turkey. Within the E.U., Eutelsat estimates up to 40 percent of the 26 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) currently do not have access to broadband and up to 10 percent never will be in a digital subscriber line (DSL) service area.

One-way satellite Internet service is also be possible with E-Bird. Its proximity to several satellites at 28.5 degrees East that provide direct-to-home digital television to the U.K. means a combined one-way broadband and TV package could be offered with a 70cm dish, said Eutelsat.