Iconz wins Probe funding for satellite service

Ministry quiet on identity of other bidders

Iconz has gained the 15th Probe contract, for satellite coverage of remote areas out of reach of terrestrial network technologies.

Sales manager Toni Laurson says the company beat off 15 rivals including Telecom, but the Ministry of Education is offering no comment about the identity of the unsuccessful bidders.

The main strength of its bid, say Laurson and other Iconz sources, was the two-way nature of the link, offering broadband in both directions by satellite with uplink and downlink capable of running at the same time (full duplex). Other satellite offerings such as Ihug's Ultra typically have a return link operating much more slowly, by terrestrial connection. Ihug claims its Connect service, where the uplink is by satellite, can also run full duplex, but reception is currently limited to the Auckland area.

“The kind of business we are”, with extensive “community” wireless links, was another factor in Iconz’s success, Laurson says. Each termination at a school can act as the centre of an 802.11g wireless network that will bring broadband to the wider community — provided the terrain is suitable, she says.

Community links are not part of the core contract, but Iconz has built in the capacity to serve such an anticipated need.

Initially, the link will use an Optus satellite, but at about the beginning of the year, the service will be transferred to the IPstar satellite operated by Asian company Shin Satellite. Iconz is the local agent for Shin Satellite.

Bandwidth will be adjustable to cope with brief period of higher demand. The Ministry’s announcement characterises typical “broadband” as ranging from 1Mb/s (which it calls a “domestic” service) to 5Mb/s (“business service”). It does not quote those actual figures, but compares the time to transmit “a typical X-ray image”, as 58 minutes over dial-up, “less than three minutes” by residential broadband and “less than 40 seconds” with business broadband.

Laurson says the bandwidth from Shin's IPstar1 satellite ranged from 64 to 512Kbit/s symmetrically, but it was up to schools to decide the speed they want.

However, even if the schools go for the low-speed alternatives, the service will be usable for videoconferencing as it will burst to higher speeds, she says. Schools are expected to use video over IP for remote learning and communicationg with each other. The ability to provide videoconferencing — a feature that previously hasn't worked well over satellite connections — was a deciding factor for ICONZ being selected as the PROBE supplier, Laurson says.

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