High Speed, Low Cost Wireless Access Creates New ENG Options

A year ago I asked, "In 2006, will satellite operators use their Ka-band spectrum for transmitting HDTV programming and other TV programming or will we see one of them introduce satellite Internet at a price point competitive with DSL or cable Internet services?"
While DirecTV so far has designated its Ka-band spectrum for TV and HDTV distribution, with the successful launch of the WildBlue-1 satellite two weeks ago I thought we might see higher data rate, lower priced satellite Internet connectivity. While WildBlue's prices are well below those competitors were posting not too long ago, it is likely to be of little benefit to broadcasters looking for an inexpensive way to transfer video over the Internet.

Based on the plans currently posted at www.wildblue.com, its lowest pricing offering, priced close to cable modem rates at $49.95 per month, offers far less data bandwidth--a maximum of 128 kbps upload and 512 kbps download speed. The most expensive plan provides 256 kbps upload speed, which is fine for Web browsing and e-mail, but suitable only for reduced resolution and lower frame rate video. WildBlue only supports fixed installations, making it unsuitable for roaming news crews.

In some areas, WiMax is available and providing much faster speeds. Providers have been willing to work with broadcasters using portable links. WiMax options should increase as Craig McCaw builds out his Clearwire network. A Business Week article A Wake-Up Call from Craig McCaw indicated Clearwire could offer nationwide mobile access for as little as $25 a month.

Watch for news on high altitude platforms (HAPs). These platforms, as I described earlier this year in RF Report, provide a stable platform for line-of-sight wireless links covering huge areas on the ground. Maintaining aerial platforms at a fixed location this high above Earth isn't easy, but the companies designing these aircraft feel confident they can compete with terrestrial wireless providers. Do a Web search on HAP communications for more information on this technology. One problem with satellite-based Internet communications is the latency caused by the round trip to a satellite transponder 23,000 miles above Earth. HAPs, located approximately 15 miles above Earth, won't have this problem.