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back to article Satellite 'net hype ignores realpolitik

Google is generating lots of utopian excitement with its various airborne Internet plans – Project Loon, its satellite acquisitions, its work with O3b (the “other three billion”). But is technology all that stands in the way of connectivity? This musing was prompted by this post by Larry Press, who is eminently qualified to ask …

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Practise thinking evil

I am sure GCHQ will provide Google with a base stations all over the world.

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Pint

"...demands a ground station with Internet connectivity."

I can't parse the above quote into anything meaningful.

If it's a functioning ground station (i.e. connected to the network in the sky), then it inherently must have Internet connectivity. It it doesn't have Internet connectivity, then it's failed in meeting its purpose in life; it's a very poor ground station and should therefore be burned to the ground.

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I see what they're doing there

1. Provide "free" internet to everyone on the planet.

2. Since nobody wants to pay for something that can be had for "free", all the ISPs go out of business.

3. With no ISPs the Internet as we know it dies and is replaced by the "free" Googlenet.

4. Google now has final and absolute control over what is allowed to be posted on the Googlenet by simply blocking access to whatever they don't like, and also gets to record and utilise the browsing history of every person on the planet, Chrome or no Chrome.

5. Don't be evil my fucking arse.

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Re: I see what they're doing there

You forgot 4a.... With only one ISP, the alphabet list of agencies have an easier time of gathering info on those who use the ISP. Thus the "friends" in power will have an easier time staying in power and the "enemies" in power will have a tougher time staying in power.

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Re: I see what they're doing there

Because all the charging ISPs went out of business in the 200s when there were ISPs offering internet access in the UK for "free".

Oh wait no they didn't.

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Unhappy

So like a lot of Google.

Looks great as PR.

But either not going to happen or downright bad.

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Meh

That still leaves the perennial problems for satellite broadband:

Latency. The round trip to a geosync satellite adds about 300ms to your ping. A fleet of Low Earth Orbit satellites will be better but that's going to expensive.

Bandwidth. This is the same problem we discussed in the article on mobile broadband recently. Only potentially worse. Everyone has to share the bandwidth available to/from the satellite only now you're sharing with an entire region. You can add more satellites (at a large cost) but then you need tightly controlled beams in order to avoid interference. We don't have an unlimited amount of radio spectrum to use and most of it is already in use.

This is why satellite broadband is expensive and has such low usage allowances.

Satellite is good for when you're stuck miles away from civilisation (eg; Amazon Jungle, Sahara Desert) or need to shift large amounts of data from the middle of a field for a couple of hours or days and can afford to pay for it (outside broadcasting) but it's a poor substitute for a terrestrial based system. Even mobile broadband is better than satellite.

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"Satellite is good for when you're stuck miles away from civilisation (eg; Amazon Jungle, Sahara Desert)" or when you live in a village in England that is only 2 miles from a town with fibre broadband or in the Highlands of Scotland or even in Wales.

Believe me satellite is slowly becoming an attractive option to those of us who don't live in places where BT need to compete with Virgin because despite all the bull, the reality is that BT are only looking to compete with Virgin and Sky and all the money in the worl (or even half a billion pounds) is not enough to get them to deploy fibre outside of small towns.

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Black Helicopters

"Satellite is good for when you're stuck miles away from civilisation "

It's Internet access, but having tested 3 systems, studied it for many years and background in Communication Engineering I can say it's not "Broadband". Internet access without a phone line != broadband. It can be more reliable than Mobile.

Capacity is so low that using "cloud" services, video streaming, Steam etc is impossible due to the low caps (often hourly, daily and weekly as well as monthly).

However LEO works better than "Project Loon" (more reliable and more capacity) but unless the fleet has hundreds of "Sats" the capacity will be poorer than one Geo Ka spot beam. The Ka based Geo Sats have of course rubbish latency, but each sat is perhaps 200x capacity of a LEO satellite.

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Here I am, posting through a BT Openwoe FTTC connection, in an area with no Virgin or Sky connectivity. Wonder how that happened?

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Unhappy

Believe me satellite is slowly becoming an attractive option to those of us who don't live in places where BT need to compete with Virgin because despite all the bull, the reality is that BT are only looking to compete with Virgin and Sky

I don't know where that myth comes from but it's provably wrong. There are plenty of places where BT provide FTTC and Virgin have no presence. Brackley, where I live for instance. A small town of about 13,000 people in rural South Northants. I've had FTTC for over two years now.

Last I heard BT's FTTC had in excess of 70% coverage of the country and is looking to hit 80% by 2015. VM coverage is still below 50%. BT claim to be aiming for 90% coverage so may well end up with more than twice the footprint of Virgin.

And that's excluding BDUK coverage because that's not BT's choice so it wouldn't be fair to include it.

I gotta say (much as it sticks in the craw) that if you're not in a Virgin cabled area then BT is your only hope. Perhaps you shouldn't be so critical of it because it seems no-one else is even thinking of helping you. Sometimes you just have to deal with the devil.

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Boffin

Or you can roll your own!

At least in the UK; when BT have decided it might cost them a bit of their own money to connect you - so they won't - then you can get together and pay a company to do it.

We've gone with a respectable small company, who can install all the fibre (yes FTTP!) much cheaper than any alternative, and connect up our group of small rural parishes.

We will be able to get 50Mbps for a similar price to similar BT and Virgin offerings, but can go anywhere up to 1000Mbps (1Gbps) for private residences and 10Gbps for businesses. (The £4 1Gbps for the weekend deal will definitely be used every time we have anyone to stay!)

I've had to do a lot of running around the parishes to get people on board, but it's going to be worth it! The main objection I've heard is to the solution being a monopoly, whereas BT have to share (nicely?).

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@bluenose: Too right! We are about to get set up with it, crap latency, insane setup cost, high cost and all, because we simply can't get a 1mb connection, despite being in the middle of England!

We literally have line of sight to several hills, which should allow a connection, but the people who do these things have, after a year, failed to get their end sorted out.

I'm currently considering taking the ADSL box up the lane and hanging my own fibre, to gain us that bit more bandwidth!

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Re: Or you can roll your own!

"We've gone with a respectable small company, who can install all the fibre (yes FTTP!) much cheaper than any alternative, and connect up our group of small rural parishes."

If past events are of any guide, the week before these projects are about to get underway (ie, after the equipment has been purchased), BT will announce that it has decided the areas in question are econiomic to supply after all and they will be part of the FTTC rollout "real soon now"

This in turn immediately _blocks_ all the EU funding that the competiing outfits have managed to source to rollout of fibre to "uneconomic areas" and BT can then provide patchy service in part of that coverage area in 1-3 years. Meantime the plucky small company ends up bankrupted because all the people who signed an agreement in principle to buy service will be gazumped into buying BT contracts they can't get out of.

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Politcs

Unless your country is size of India, Australia, China, Russia, USA etc you can use an Earth Station in a neighbouring country.

If your LEO sats are Mesh Networked you can definitely put Earth Station in a safe place. Actually jamming these is harder than Geo Sat, which is more outside political control than terrestrial Internet. Iran even tried jamming US uplink to TV satellites over Atlantic feeding Europe and Near East using transmitters based in Cuba. They also tried hill top jammers outside towns. They appear have now abandoned this.

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Re: Politcs

The downlink end seems quite easy, particularly if you can do satellite-satellite links - Iridium manages global coverage with, apparently, two pairs of stations, all in the US.

The tricky bit I suspect is getting approval for the actual user handsets/modems on the ground. The licenses companies like Three and Vodafone pay don't just cover the company's own base stations, but the use of handsets to connect to them - so, using and selling Google Satellite devices in North Korea would require permission from Kim Jong Il's gang. (Or some way to avoid the need for it: being in an embassy, perhaps, or a black-market deal.)

I'd love to see truly global Net coverage with decent, uncensored service - but I think that's still quite a way off. Iridium has global voice coverage, but truly lousy data service (1800 ms latency at about 2.8 kbps!) - easy to improve on that significantly, but even now, Iridium isn't truly global: it's barred in North Korea, northern Sri Lanka - and, for some strange reason, Poland.

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Re: Politcs

Were a true universal high altitude internet to really appear that can cross borders, you can be 100% certain that regimes will jam the uplink reception to enforce local censorship. For example the way Iran has been jamming satellite TV services. Has the collateral damage that it blocks numerous channels aimed at other countries but that did not stop them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Politcs

I'd love to see truly global Net coverage with decent, uncensored service

I'd rather see access to clean water, decent healthcare, and a respect for life of all genders first.

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Re: Politcs

Agreed, though it could be argued that the first will help bring about the rest.

Not convinced, myself, but as I say, it could be argued.

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Re: Politcs

@AC:

If they have even crap Internet, they will get better solutions to other problems far faster than *any other single improvement would.*

No clean water? Google how to filter water through sand. No bricks? Instructables can show you how to make them from mud or sand and cow poo. Need to check the fair price for what you are growing? Bing could tell you. Heard there's a nasty epidemic killing lots of people? That's be via the Internet, hopefully, rather than some Typhoid Mary who's already been exposed.

So yes, Internet for all, for near free. Sign me up too. I'll even pay for a second channel so I can get more bandwidth and a back up to my BT line.

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Mix the technologies

Use a mobile phone network for the User->Internet, with satellite only for the return path. In theory you could send a URL via an SMS message, and get GB of download over the return path. OK, latency is shit, but so what? It's not an issue for most things.

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