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By: MarkJ - 23 May, 2009 (8:45 AM)
UK satellite operator Avanti Communications, which has yet to even launch its new HYLAS broadband satellite (related news - HERE and HERE), has been awarded a project by the European Space Agency (ESA) contributing €250,000 in 2009 to the cost of work on a Preliminary Design Review for a new satellite system called Hercules.

This system has been proposed to the UK government's Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) as part of Avanti's response to the Digital Britain consultation, which is seeking to make a universal minimum UK broadband speed (USO) of 2Mbps a reality.

The Hercules system could provide a low cost method for delivery of broadband services at speeds between 2Mb and 50Mb to the 2.5 million rural homes in the UK which have been identified as unable to access terrestrial high speed broadband. The Digital Britain consultation has discussed ways to implement a Universal Service Commitment to solve this challenge. Avanti's first satellite, HYLAS, will solve a portion of this problem, but the market in the UK for high speed rural broadband is much bigger than most industry participants previously imagined.

The Technology Strategy Board, a partner of the British National Space Centre, has supported Avanti in this ESA application, which is designed to ensure that if BERR decides to proceed with major government initiatives to solve the rural broadband challenge, the Hercules concept has been de-risked and fully scoped, and is capable of a rapid project commencement.

David Williams, Chief Executive of Avanti, said: "BNSC and Avanti began working together to address rural broadband problem long before the problem was widely acknowledged, which is how the HYLAS satellite project began. Whilst this satellite will soon be serving hundreds of thousands of households in the UK, it is clear that the demand now runs into millions, so more capacity will be needed if the government decides to move forward with its Digital Britain Universal Service Commitment, and this Hercules contract would enable us to respond rapidly."

As per the past news items linked at the top of this article, ISPreview has raised more than a few concerns about the use of satellite services as a USO solution. High hardware/installation costs, uselessly restrictive usage allowances, unreliable speeds and poor latency are chief among those.

To date we've yet to see a satellite broadband service that could negate most of these fears, although some of the above claims (50Mbps) lead us towards a degree of cautious optimism. We have also just completed an interview with Avanti where some very difficult questions were put to them; expect that to surface at the start of June.
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