Searchers have always looked for information-delivery methods that are faster, better, and cheaper—and have usually had to settle for two out of three of these, while continuing to look for new options. Frustrated with my home office's relatively slow dial-up modem access to the Internet, I've recently been checking into the availability of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service in my area. For a number of reasons, I had already eliminated cable access as a possible broadband solution to my problem. But another high-speed access option is just becoming available for consumers that I may consider: two-way satellite delivery.
StarBand Communications, Inc. (http://www.starband.com) is a new company that has just started providing high-speed, two-way, always-on, satellite-delivered Internet service to consumers within the lower 48 states—it claims to be the first service for the consumer market to offer these features. (Previous satellite services offered a hybrid system with one-way satellite access and still needed a phone line with an Internet connection.)
Currently, StarBand's service is available in two different packages. One package is from RadioShack stores and features the MSN Internet service, but is only available with the purchase of a specially configured Compaq PC with a pre-installed transmitter and receiver card. The other one is from EchoStar's DISH Network retailers and features the StarBand Internet service. The EchoStar package includes the StarBand dish antenna and a "satellite modem" that is connected to a USB port on an existing PC. In both versions of the product, no telephone connection, no dial-up account, and no separate Internet service provider account are needed.
According to information on the StarBand site, the StarBand service can download content up to 10 times faster than the fastest dial-up service. StarBand consumers can expect download speeds up to 500 Kbps and upload speeds up to 150 Kbps. Users are warned that they may experience slower speed during peak hours, which are typically weekday evenings. StarBand's goal is to provide 150 Kbps download speed and upload speeds of 50 Kbps during the busiest hours on the Net.
Several other companies are reportedly close to offering two-way satellite service as well. Hughes Electronics' DirecTV (http://www.hns.com) is expected to begin selling its service before the end of the year. WildBlue is a Colorado company (http://www.wildblue.com) that plans to deliver affordable high-speed Internet access services via satellite to homes and small offices in the U.S. and Canada by early 2002. It will be deploying its own satellites.
Besides the up-front hardware costs for the satellite services, there are a number of things to consider before making a decision. The StarBand satellite services are more expensive per month ($59.95 for MSN or $69.99 for DISH) than either DSL or cable, and also involve an installation fee (about $200). An article in The New York Times noted that satellite services would slow down as they acquire more users, (which is what happens with cable services) and that bad weather could interfere with transmissions. In addition, I haven't yet determined if the technology is in place to provide for security of the satellite transmissions. But, for consumers and small businesses in areas not served by cable or DSL, the satellite option for Internet service could prove particularly attractive.