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ISP Satellite Internet Demands Slice of Broadband Delivery UK Budget

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 (1:47 pm) - Score 1,286

Satellite Internet, an aptly named broadband provider that makes use of the SES (ASTRA) platform, has called on local councils across the United Kingdom to spend some of the latest £250m in broadband funding on connecting the last 5% of rural areas to the Internet via Satellite instead of land lines.

This week the Government confirmed how its next tranche of £250 million in Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funding, which aims to extend the current superfast broadband (25Mbps+) coverage target from 90% (end of 2015) to 95% by 2017, would be split up around the country.

However not everybody was happy with the news and many anticipate that most of the funding will be used to help extend BT’s existing contracts in related areas, instead of giving smaller altnet ISPs a fair shot at the prize.

Mike Locke, Managing Director of SatelliteInternet, said:

Whilst this is excellent news and will almost certainly be a boost for rural access across the UK, forgetting about the final 5% of the population entirely is a mistake. To give some perspective, £250m would cover a third of a million satellite installations, all equipment costs and a year’s service at 20Mbps which could solve the issue as quickly as the dishes could be installed.”

But would it really “solve the issue“? On the one hand Satellite’s big advantage is with its ability to achieve almost 100% coverage and the headline speeds have also improved significantly over the past four years, with many packages now offering affordable download rates of up to 20Mbps. According to Locke, Satellite broadband can now provide “consistent, reliable and fast download speeds“.

On the other hand there are some caveats to satellite services. Latency times (ping) tend to be very high, which makes fast paced multiplayer gaming impossible and also causes problems for some other time sensitive services (e.g. financial trading, VPN etc.). Data capacity is also more expensive on satellite and harder to upgrade, which means that usage allowances tend to be low and traffic / speed throttling can be quite aggressive.

In other words, you probably could cover a third of a million satellite installations with that £250m but some services would soon struggle to manage the extra network congestion (remember satellites also have to serve thousands of customers around Europe) and a few already seem to be having this problem.

Mike Locke added:

I understand that satellite broadband has its limitations, but it is the perfect technology for those whom currently have little prospect of imminent connection to a fast and reliable network. It is available everywhere, it is quick, easy to install, cost effective, tried and tested.”

As it stands we’d agree that Satellite can work as a useful stop-gap solution for isolated rural areas, at least until something better comes along, although at the same time we’d rather see public money being spent on infrastructure that can do the job properly and deliver a full Internet experience.

On top of that Satellite is not classed as a Next Generation Access (NGA) platform and so would be unable to bid for funding from the BDUK pot. In the meantime, if people want it then they can always pay for satellite themselves and have it now.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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4 Responses
  1. Avatar James Harrison

    Latency (200ms+) and capacity limits aren’t the only thing – high line rental costs and expensive packages combined with expensive installation and equipment cost make it unaffordable for most people!

    The trouble with stop-gap solutions like satellite is that they risk painting areas as ‘connected’ even though they are not truly connected. State funding of this sort should in my opinion only be spent on projects with useful working lifespans (ie, that will not require substantial equipment replacement or civil engineering) in the 10s of years. Ask any wireless ISP and they’ll tell you they’ll expect to replace most of their equipment within 10 years. Satellite’s no different, except that due to latency (and the influx of latency-sensitive applications as key internet applications, like media streaming and voice over IP) it’s likely to become irrelevant even faster.

    At that point you’ve got an area that on paper by the current measurements and definitions is ‘superfast connected’ – try getting funding or support for doing a proper job down the line. These stop-gap measures are dangerous – they risk not only wasting public funds but making it impossible for communities to seek later funding to properly connect their communities with a solution that will support applications expected to function in 10 years time – fixed wireless is better than satellite in this regard in that upgrades are not massively expensive and can be deployed fairly rapidly, but new fixed optical fibre systems remain the only responsible way to spend public money outside of densely populated cities (where VDSL2 and G.vector may remain appropriate and capable for many years to come).

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Totally agree, this might meet current targets but once its in I doubt you’ve much chance at all to go back any time soon and put in a more future proof solution.

      If people do want this done right its going to be very costly, the money has to come from somewhere.

  2. Avatar Gadget

    Satellite has its place, but it is interesting the quote from Mike refers to installation and a year’s rental, after which the £250m is gone – great as long as you realise that and are prepared to pay for that level of speed afterwards out of your own pocket.

  3. Avatar Phil Coates

    I have satellite. It’s not cheap @£65 per month. Latency I can live with but it is rare to achieve 20 down and 6 up. I would hazard a guess at an average of about 5 down and 2 up from my tests. Limited to 60gb per month downloads. It’s a stopgap and that’s about all.

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