Pick your own bandwidth with satellite broadband

TMA 2002: SatDrive hopes to tackle the broadband divide with a one-way satellite service that lets users pay more to get extra bandwidth when necessary

SatDrive is aiming to attract large number of customers who are currently stranded on the wrong side of Britain's broadband divide by offering a one-way satellite broadband product that lets users pay more to download large files quickly.

The service costs £14.99 per month and promises download speeds of a maximum of 4Mbps. When many subscribers are online simultaneously the available bandwidth will be much less, and SatDrive customers will then have the opportunity to boost their share of the available bandwidth -- for a fee.

"Many consumers will be happy to pay £14.99 a month just for the basic service, but we think business users such as consultants and Web developers will be happy to pay for priority bandwidth when necessary," Eoin Lambkin, founder of SatDrive, told ZDNet UK News.

Lambkin, who was promoting SatDrive at TMA 2002 in Brighton, believes a home office worker would be happy to pay to quickly download a large file such as a new software upgrade, or multimedia work for a client.

SatDrive will offer five levels of priority that give users progressively higher priority over other users, with enhanced download performance. The lowest priority -- one level up from the basic service -- costs 3p for each extra megabyte, with the highest priority costing 9p per megabyte.

Sir George Young, one of the UK's more tech-savvy politicians, has already welcomed this bandwidth-management feature. Last month he opened SatDrive's offices, which are based in a former BT local exchange in Overton, Hampshire -- where ADSL is not currently available.

"I rather like SatDrive's approach of allowing the user to choose what performance they require at a particular time for a particular Internet activity, knowing that they can get and pay for faster performance when they want it, but only pay for the basic level of performance the rest of the time," said Sir George at the time.

Several other companies, such as Isonetric and Everywhere! Broadband, are also starting to promote their one-way satellite broadband services, but Lambkin claims that SatDrive's bandwidth management service makes it a superior product.

At £14.99 per month, SatDrive's basic service is cheaper per month than ADSL, but the installation costs are significantly higher. The PCI version costs £399 inc. VAT, and the USB option costs £450 inc. VAT.

One-way satellite products such as SatDrive's do not give users an uplink, so they must use their phone line to send data such as email and surfing requests. Despite this, Lambkin believes his product will appeal to many of those in rural and semi-rural areas who cannot get affordable broadband.

"There are something in the region of 400,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who can't get affordable broadband," estimated Lambkin. "Two-way satellites are too expensive for many SMEs or SoHo (small office and home office) workers, but if you just need fast downloads and broadband-speed surfing, SatDrive is great."

SatDrive currently has over 4,000 customers in Germany, and around 100 in Britain where it began selling its product some six weeks ago. It is planning to launch a LAN version that would allow users to share the broadband link between several PCs, and aims to have at least 5,000 UK customers "within months", Lambkin said.

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