Internet by satellite dish is an option for Canada and U.S.

Question: I live outside the city and the chance of high speed Internet becoming available in the foreseeable future is not too bright. I currently use a phone line to connect to the Internet, but I also have a Star Choice satellite TV dish. A service man said before next summer I would be able to access the Internet via my dish. Have you heard of this service? – D.F.W.

Answer: The satellite TV companies in Canada are certainly interested in providing Internet via satellite services.

Star Choice has said they have no immediate plans to offer that kind of service, but that’s about to change.

Shaw Communications, Star Choice’s parent company, has received approval from Industry Canada to build and launch a satellite that will provide two-way high-speed Internet access via a satellite dish.

A similar service, called StarBand, was just launched in the U.S. It provides 500 kbps downloads and 150 Kbps uploads. The company charges $99 US per month (about $140 CDN) for unlimited connection time. No dial up is necessary. The service is always on.

In Canada, the only satellite Internet service available today (November 2000) is from Bell ExpressVu. Their product is called DirecPC Satellite Edition. The service uses a satellite dish to download data from the Internet to home computers at speeds of up to 400 kbps.

If you consistently connect your 56K modem at 45-50 kbps, that’s eight to ten times faster, although – of course – you’ll rarely get the full 400 kbps out of the system. Nevertheless, downloading from the Internet would certainly be faster than via a conventional dialup modem.

The only problem is that you won’t replace your analog modem. The system still requires a dialup connection to send data upstream. Let me explain.

In any Internet connection, data comes in from the Internet to your modem, but commands also have to be sent out to the Internet from your modem. Using the satellite system, data comes down from the satellite via your dish. Commands from you to the Internet have to go out via a dialup modem.

So, if you’re uploading a file to a server on the Internet, you’ll get the same old slow speed as you’re used to, but bringing web pages or large files in from the Internet will be much zippier.

The catch to all this is it is expensive. A start-up kit costs $299 CDN. That includes software and a special network card that allows the connection of the satellite dish to your PC. The monthly fees are about $40 CDN for the service if you are an ExpressVu satellite TV subscriber. If you aren’t, it costs $50 CDN per month. This gives you 60 hours a month of connect time. Additional time is billed at $2 CDN per hour. For those who don’t already own a dish, kits cost $129 CDN.

Since you have to maintain your existing dialup account, this is an expensive method to connect to the Internet. The good news is that, in the next couple of years, a series of new Internet connection technologies is anticipated. Cellular phone companies are working on bringing high-speed Internet access via their wireless networks. High-speed microwave Internet technologies are also promising.

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