Bringing satellite broadband to Britain

Broadband to rural areas
10 November 2006

There still remain many areas of Europe without access to broadband internet, but a project supported by the European Space Agency’s Satellite Telecommunications Department is helping to bridge this digital divide. Soon to reach thousands of users, the INSPIRE project will also act as a precursor for services on the forthcoming HYLAS satellite.

The INSPIRE project started in January 2005 and is the work of a consortium led by Avanti Screenmedia Group, based in the United Kingdom. It aims to provide broadband connectivity primarily to home users in rural areas of the UK and Ireland. The project has recently completed the first stage of development, which achieved 1000 connections in the West Midlands region of England and at locations in Wales, Scotland and Northeast and Central England as well as Ireland. The final development stage will see as many as 6000 users connected and possible expansion into continental Europe.

Addressing users’ needs

Equipped with a range of applications, INSPIRE not only proves the commercial viability of such a service, but also demonstrates the benefits of both basic and advanced broadband services. The applications have been designed especially with rural users in mind.

Key among these is a community channel, which allows users to create their own community websites with locally produced content. This is especially important for local businesses which could otherwise not afford such a capability.

The INSPIRE applications also include an entertainment channel, which brings the advantages of digital television to homes previously without this service. Users vote for their favourite sports, comedy or music shows and schedule viewing times.

Because rural residents are not only far from urban centres but also far from other members of their own community, other applications have been added. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) can be used as an alternative to telephone. Eventually the service will also offer video-chat for residential users and video-conferencing applications for businesses.

Islands of broadband connectivity

Applications alone will not bridge the digital divide. To be a success, any solution also needs to be affordable. Although more expensive than terrestrial solutions, technical advances have increased the competitiveness of satellite broadband. Avanti chose the innovative approach of combining satellite links with conventional wireless networking.

One satellite terminal can be shared by a group of up to ten users by means of a wireless network, creating islands of broadband connectivity. This means that users can take full advantage of satellite broadband while incurring the costs associated with the much less expensive wireless networking.

Until now, broadband access via satellite has been limited to small trials and has seen limited commercial deployment. INSPIRE will demonstrate that a large scale deployment is possible. Users who would otherwise be left without service will gain access to broadband internet. This provides an example of how space based solutions can help bridge the digital divide.

HYLAS

HYLAS
Artist's impression of HYLAS

That INSPIRE promises to be a success means that Avanti will be able to now fully exploit HYLAS, the Highly Adaptable Satellite to be built by EADS Astrium. Planned for launch in late 2008, the spacecraft’s main purposes are to provide broadband internet access and to distribute/broadcast high-definition television across Europe.

HYLAS will be able to handle internet traffic for up to 300 000 concurrent users. The use of high gain Ka-Band spot beam antennas will allow up to six simultaneously active spots, equivalent to more than 40 conventional 33 MHz transponders.

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