StarBand to offer satellite broadband

A newly-formed venture backed by Microsoft Corp. has set the stage for the rollout early next year of a satellite-based broadband Internet-access system for business users.

StarBand Communications Inc. in McLean, Va., recently announced an early implementation of the system: it is providing the Navajo, Hopi and Havasupai Indian reservations in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico with satellite links to Northern Arizona University’s distance-learning programs in Flagstaff, Ariz.

StarBand was formed by Microsoft, Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. in Petah Tikva, Israel, and EchoStar Communications Corp. in Littleton, Colo.

Gilat’s vice-president of investment relations, Dianne VanBeber, said the consumer version of the broadband satellite Internet system will be available very soon, while a more robust version for businesses will be rolled out in the first quarter by McLean-based Spacenet Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Gilat.

The satellite system has also been tested by Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Ill. Gus Otto, a systems architect at Caterpillar, said the equipment used for the consumer and business versions of the system is fundamentally the same. If tests pan out, Otto believes the two-way satellite system could provide videoconferencing from remote sites around the world.

The consumer version will be marketed through Fort Worth, Tex.-based Radio