Two-way broadband Web access today is limited to cable and DSL, but next year you'll have another option: satellite, which to date has been broadband only in the downstream (from the Internet) direction. But will people wait? Only 1.6 million U.S. households are expected to have satellite Internet access by 2003, compared with 5.7 million DSL and 7.7 million cable modem households, according to market research firm Jupiter Communications.
Avid gamers are also concerned about the lag time that may occur between action and reaction online when data has to travel the considerable distance from your PC to the satellite and back. Most service providers, however, promise to deal with this issue. Here's what you can expect from satellite Internet access within the next few years.
Not Quite Two-Way Broadband
MSN and Israeli company Gilat Satellite promise to go "live" by the end of the year with a satellite Internet service to U.S. consumers. Although billing itself as a two-way consumer broadband offering, the new service will not provide two-way broadband service initially. Downstream access will reach speeds of 400 Kbps, but the upstream data (information you send to the Internet) will be 56 Kbps. Details have not yet been announced, but the pricing is expected to be competitive with current broadband offerings.
Gilat is hoping that the early introduction of this service will appeal to consumers in areas where cable modems or DSL--both in the U.S. and abroad-aren't available. "Because satellite technology provides equal access to bandwidth regardless of location, the services will be offered on a nationwide basis. These advantages are especially attractive to the rural and suburban markets, which will not be serviced by terrestrial broadband technology for years to come," says Stan Schneider, spokesperson for the MSN/Gilat initiative.
Wait a Few Years
The first truly two-way broadband satellite Internet service won't be available until the end of 2001. Produced by iSky, the consumer service will offer 1.5 Mbps downstream service and 0.5 to 1 Mbps upstream service. Installation and equipment costs will be similar to satellite television, probably around $200, and the monthly fee will be similar to cable or DSL services-around $40. Higher-priced corporate packages with speeds of up to 5 Mbps will also be available. As for international offerings, iSky is biding its time. "In the U.S., there's much greater Internet penetration, acceptance of broadband services, and wealth per household. Although Internet services are worse overseas, there's also less wealth there. The U.S. is the best market for the next few years," says Brad Greenwald, spokesperson for iSky.
AOL is also getting in early on the satellite access market by investing$1.5 billion in Hughes Electronics DirecTV and DirecPC. Hughes plans to introduce an interactive DirecTV/AOL TV set-top box with AOL Internet service. Speeds will be similar to those of the MSN/Gilat service, with high speeds downstream but only 56 Kbps upstream. Hughes is also developing a two-way broadband satellite service called Spaceway that is slated to launch in the U.S. in 2003. According to Hughes, AOL may also offer a two-way consumer service as part of Spaceway. Pricing is expected to be competitive with cable and DSL. Spaceway will initially start service in North America but plans to move into Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Another two-way broadband satellite service scheduled to go live in 2003 comes from Astrolink. Service speeds will vary but are expected to go as high as 226 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream. It will be far more expensive than the other services, however, with installation prices ranging from around $1,000 to $8,000, plus monthly fees. Astrolink expects to launch service simultaneously in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Eurasia, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Following on the heels of the other moderately priced contenders, Teledesic is targeting its own two-way broadband satellite Internet service for 2004. The service will offer speeds of 64 Mbps downstream and 2 Mbps upstream. Teledesic plans to launch service globally and will offer rates comparable to other broadband services.