The Nth Coming of Satellite Broadband

Satellite-based broadband services have been a bit of a non-starter. The low speeds, and lower penetration rates have proved that the big birds really don’t fly. Folks, however still keep trying. In Thailand, iPstar is close to launching some of its birds to bring broadband-like speeds to folks in rural Asia. More recently, Telesat launched a Canadian only service. Not to be left behind, apparently we are going to see a new effort from WildBlue, a Greenwood Village, CO based start-up, which is going to launch its service in June 2005. Depending on the money you want to spend, you could get between 512 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps via a satellite, the company claims. Its not going to be cheap: the gear is going to cost $299 that subscribers will have to pay, and on top of that expect to be hit with a $179.95 installation charge. What!!!

WildBlue has been a work in progress for nearly six years, and has raised around $500 million in investment from the likes of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, EchoStar, Liberty Media, and IntelSat. “We’re after those 25 million homes that can’t get anything,” WildBlue CEO Tom Moore told The Rocky Mountain News. “If it wasn’t for a company like WildBlue, families like the Tuttles would be on dial-up for a long time to come.” The Center for the Study of Rural America – only 5 percent of communities with fewer than 10,000 residents have broadband access. While the market is clearly there, past experience of satellite broadband hasn’t been encouraging. More recently, Gilat Satellite Networks of Israel had to roll up struggling Starband into its Spacenet subsidiary after the service failed to get much traction in the market place.

Does this mean that Satellite Broadband will finally take off? I think these new generation birds have more capacity and can handle more customers. Higher speeds would make it worthwhole for corporations with remote offices, though not quite sure how much impact they will have in the residential markets, especially when munis and cities are pushing hard on building their own networks.

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