20 October 1997


Are you tired of logjams on the Internet? If so, the answer may already be at hand. With the aid of funding from the British National Space Centre and the European Space Agency, Guildford-based space consultancy ESYS Ltd. has been investigating possible applications of the future Satellite Superhighway in order to demonstrate the potential of the latest communications satellite technology for near real-time delivery of large chunks of data.

At present, broadband interactive satellite services are still in their infancy. However, observers of the communications market predict that demand for fast, broadband services will rocket to more than 120 billion US dollars per year by the year 2010. In order to increase awareness of the possibilities offered by the new technology and to promote advanced applications, ESYS has developed its Satellite Superhighway demonstrator programme.

At present, the Internet is very slow and unsuited to users wanting to download large amounts of data such as high resolution images. In future, the bottlenecks may be avoided by channelling the data via communications satellites. The first steps in bypassing Internet congestion have already been taken.

'Communications satellites offer affordable, flexible ways to streamline data delivery to business and domestic customers,' said ESYS consultant David Mantripp. 'Users and suppliers can simply use these services to "turbo-charge" their Internet connection, or they can implement a new breed of services based on high speed data broadcast, unhindered by Internet protocol limitations. Other approaches to the bandwidth problem have been put forward, and will arrive in time, but the Satellite Superhighway is fully operational and available now.'

Hughes-Olivetti Telecom of Milton Keynes is currently offering two services via the Eutelsat 2-F3 geostationary satellite. Its DirecPC service offers Turbo Internet access which enables data to be downloaded directly to a PC at a rate of 400 kbs. A much faster broadband link with broadcast rates of up to 3 Mbs is also available for users who regularly download large amounts of data. In each case, the data is uplinked to the satellite via a server based at Griesheim in Germany. All the customer has to do is contact the server through the usual Internet Service provider or by direct dialling. The satellite antenna (if required) and a special computer card are provided by Hughes-Olivetti.

Other services will soon be available, notably the Astra-Net service on offer by Luxemburg-based company European Satellite Multimedia from 1 November. Based on the Astra 1E satellite, it will have the capacity to transmit up to 6 Mbs for direct video broadcasting. 'Our point to multi-point system will be able to send information to hundreds of thousands of people at the same time,' said a company spokesman. A third alternative for UK customers may be offered in future by Eutelsat via their F4 satellite. Additional geostationary satellite operators have indicated their intention to launch similar services.

While communications satellites can already provide high-speed Internet services and data delivery services for corporate customers, as prices fall, tomorrow's Web surfers will be able to download large files hundreds of times faster than their counterparts of today. Eventually, the new systems should offer fast two-way access, bringing easy, affordable and interactive access to a wide range of audio, visual, database and other information.

ESYS has already identified potential for growth in areas where multi-media applications can benefit. These include real-time selling and conveyancing of property, distance learning, tele- medicine, video conferencing, hi-fi audio on demand and virtual tourism. Such systems are also ideal for customers interested in using Earth Observation images from existing remote sensing satellites such as Spot and Radarsat, as well as future high (1-metre) resolution satellites.

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