IP-based satellite service aimed at remote users

Another attempt is being made to connect even the most remote and isolated areas to the rest of the world via broadband Internet access.

Vancouver-based Infosat Telecommunications in May launched SkycomIP, a satellite-based communications network serving North American companies with data communications services. According to the company, its major customers are expected to be in the marine and natural resource industries, as well as governments and consumers in remote communities.

According to Shane Playfair, SkycomIP product manager, the company has been offering its Skycom satellite communications phone and fax service, but as the world started moving more and more towards data-based communications, the company started to re-think its technology.

“Obviously the world’s going data and we needed to provide a solution to our customers that incorporates IP (Internet Protocol) data into the format,” Playfair said. The new SkycomIP service is an IP-based satellite communications network offering a service featuring converging office-based networks, Internet services and telephone and fax services in one package.

The bonus to using an IP-based network, Playfair added, is shared bandwidth. In the old Skycom network, satellite bandwidth was dedicated. For instance, one voice line takes up a certain amount of bandwidth. Now with IP, the bandwidth is all combined and customers share bandwidth with each other and amongst their particular applications, he said.

“It creates a less expensive product that’s more flexible,” Playfair said. According to the company, by allocating bandwidth dynamically over the network, the new network is more efficient.

The network itself is asymmetrical and can offer up to T-1 speeds shared between a group of remote users. So depending on time and the number of users on at the time, download speeds can be up to the speed of T-1. Upload speeds, on the other hand, are sold in increments starting from 28.8Kbps and going all the way up to T-1.

No matter what method is used, the result is the same, according to one analyst -the sharing of one fat bandwidth pipe.

“When you’re looking at a [time division multiple access (TDMA)] model, whether that’s IP-based or traditional TDMA doesn’t really matter much. It’s one large shared bandwidth,” said Iain Grant, managing director of Brockville, Ont.-based The Yankee Group in Canada.

According to Playfair, the savings associated with the IP-based network can cut broadband costs in half. The old satellite networks, such as Skycom, generally cost between $5,000 and $6,000 per month. The cost was that high, he said, because bandwidth was dedicated. Now with shared bandwidth, the cost of the service can be as low as $1,700 per month.

Equipment necessary to have the service includes a 1.2-metre antenna and some indoor hardware, supplied by Infosat.

The SkycomIP service is available now. Pricing for the service varies depending on how much upload bandwidth is required. It ranges from $1,700 to $3,500 per month. Infosat Telecommunications can be found on the Web at www.infosat.com.