Broadband satellite Internet access for schools in rural Ireland
SchoolSat is a trial service providing fast access to the Internet for schools in rural Ireland using leading-edge satellite technology developed by Web-Sat in Dublin and supported by the Telecommunications department of the European Space Agency (ESA).
The aim of the trial is to investigate how far this technology can offer a solution to connect schools to the Internet, to build networks between schools and to transmit large files of information be it data, video, audio, or graphics.
The service is based on the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard which is deployed Europe-wide (and is becoming accepted as a worldwide standard) for digital television. It allows the user to receive Internet services with a relatively small antenna (less than 1metre diameter) and a PC equipped with a satellite modem anywhere within the footprint of the Eutelsat W3 satellite (used by Web-Sat). This PC can be used as a gateway to connect multiple PCs to the Internet.
The Belgian company ATiT, audio visual and IT service providers specialising in education and culture, initiated SchoolSat as a project under ESA Telecom’s User Segment programme in response to the currently low levels of Internet connectivity for schools in Ireland.
The SchoolSat service currently serves the Donegal Education Centre and 9 secondary schools in the county, ranging from the largest secondary school in Ireland, Carndonagh Community School on the Inishowen peninsula serving more than 1300 students, to the small Gaeltacht Vocational School on Arranmore island with just 46 students. The schools taking part have been equipped with small satellite dishes that allow them to send and receive information at a speed far faster than ISDN.
Many teachers taking part in the trials have reported a significant improvement in their use of the Internet for teaching purposes through their use of satellite-supported network. “For the first time”, according to Colm Toibin from Carndonagh School, “whole classes can use the Internet at the same time, something which simply wasn’t possible in the past”. George Mullin, another teacher taking part says, “It can help to alleviate some of the social and economic disadvantages of living in remote and often isolated parts of Ireland”.
Capitalising on experience gained and technology developed under earlier ESA Telecom supported projects – Trapeze, (tele-education via satellite for traveling communities) and Web-Sat, (high-speed satellite Internet provision) – SchoolSat is top of the class, successfully developing a solid example for the provision of sustainable, fully operational satellite Internet services for schools.