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Satellites could boost rural net

Slow rural broadband could be on the way out with the launch of satellites

SLOW rural broadband could be on the way out with the launch of satellites intended to provide high-speed internet access and HD TV services.

First to fly was Avanti’s €120 million Hylas-1, which lifted off from Kourou in French Guyana. It gives 10Mb broadband at a cost of about £25 a month to “thousands of homes across Western and eastern Europe”.

Eutelsat’s €350m challenger Ka-SAT was next, launched from Baïkonour in Kazakhstan. It is the world’s most powerful, with a capacity of more than 70Gb.

Each uses the high-frequency Ka-band signal at 28GHz to give good penetration – a boon in bad weather – and they herald a new age for highspeed satellite internet access.

However, even they are a small drop in the ocean compared to what is needed. While Hylas-1 will initially serve some 300,000 homes, there are about 30m without high-speed internet access in Europe and even the minibus-sized Ka-SAT will only cover up to two million of them.

At the moment, rural areas can get satellite broadband via Nordnet, SHD, Vivéole and Connection Verte, with departments such as Mayenne, Manche and Dordogne offering cutprice set-up or equipment. But the new satellites are completely aimed to boost internet usage, unlike the ones at present in use.

As the Hylas-1 was steered into geostationary orbit at 35,500km, Avanti chief executive David Williams said: “This will make broadband at competitive commercial rates a reality for the first time.”

He said the satellite would cover the whole of Europe bar the Scandinavian countries.

Both Hylas-1 and its Eutelsat rival were built by EADS Astrium and were fitted out side-by-side in Portsmouth, but Ka-SAT is Europe’s first high-throughput satellite (HTS) offering 10Mb download and 4Mb upload.

It covers Europe and the Mediterranean and Eutelsat’s Tooway system copes with video applications needing ultra-high-bit rates such as HD digital cinema. Contracts should be about €30 for 10GB per month.

Eutelsat already provides the internet service on the SNCF’s 52 TGVs in the east of France.

However, one area where satellites fall down is in voice-over-internet systems, where they suffer by halfsecond delays in response times as signals bounce through space.

That latency problem may be resolved in 2013, when the Google-backed O3b satellites take up position about 8,000km above the Equator. This ultra-low orbit slashes the delay in internet phone signals.

Built at the Thales Alenia Space plant in Cannes, they are aimed to be “faster than geostationary satellites and almost as fast as fibre, and cheaper than satellites and almost as cheap as fibre”.

New industry, energy and digital economy minister Eric Besson says 70 per cent of the population will have very high speed internet access in 10 years. It repeats his 2008 claim from his first stint in charge of the digital economy.

Since then, only two out of three households have internet access and there are 11 pupils for every computer in schools.

French broadband today

A STUDY by broadband action group Renaissance Numérique revealed shock statistics on internet access in France:

- At the end of 2010, only two households out of three had internet access; the same as South Korea in 2001

- Half of small to medium companies (48 per cent) had an internet site, 13 points below the European average

- Digital start-ups are just 2.1 per cent of new businesses. Any new internet firms start outside France

- The turnover for e-commerce is below half of that in the UK: €25 billion against €56bn across the Channel

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