IntelSat hopes to introduce in mid-1999 a satellite-based system that promises to bring affordable, high-speed Internet services to regions of the world poorly served by landline connections, according to an IntelSat official.
The system works by collecting frequently accessed Web content in a central "warehouse" server and then multicasting it to "kiosk" servers hosted by Internet service providers worldwide, who store the content in a local cache.
Because the content is stored locally, the Internet service provider's (ISP) customers will be able to download it more quickly than if they had to establish connections with multiple servers located thousands of miles away, IntelSat said.
IntelSat plans to start testing its multicast system, which is based on software developed by A&T Systems, in November. Canadian telecommunications provider Teleglobe will operate the warehouse server, with kiosk sites hosted by Telecom Egypt, Telkom South Africa, Cyprus Telecommunications Authority and Embratel of Brazil, IntelSat said.
The partnerships were first announced at the INET 98 forum a few weeks ago in Geneva.
The service is likely to find its greatest appeal in areas where traditional telecommunications infrastructures are thin, and where ISPs are forced to pay high charges to access global Internet backbones operated by telecommunications carriers, said John Stevenson, technical manager of Internet service development for IntelSat.
"If you're at the far (eastern) end of the Mediterranean you usually have to pay someone on the West coast of Europe a transit fee, and people aren't enthused about that financially," Stevenson said. "That's especially so in Cyprus and Egypt."
With IntelSat's system, ISPs install a satellite receiver at their local hub to receive the content, which they store using two high-end workstations, Stevenson said.
For users, the system promises faster delivery of Internet content as well as potentially lower costs, since savings made by ISPs could be passed onto their customers, Stevenson said.
When work began on the multicast platform last year IntelSat envisioned it as a "pull" system that would supplement its existing point-to-point Internet access services. Content delivered using its platform can be "channelised" by an intelligent agent in the warehouse server that studies keywords in the content it delivers. That will allow kiosk operators to pull some of the content and have the ability to reject other content for religious, language or other reasons, Stevenson said.
Teleglobe appears to be heading more toward a "push" model, in which it will channel content on behalf of its kiosk customers by striking subscription deals with content providers, to offer categories of content like sport, news and entertainment, Stevenson said.
"This is a case where one objective we had has already been rebalanced by an opportunity that Teleglobe sees," Stevenson said.
The system is still in a precommercial testing phase, Stevenson emphasized, and none of the players are committed yet to offering the service. IntelSat also has yet to say how it will collect payment for its system, although it will likely be through a license for its software, he said.
The tests to be carried out in November are designed to demonstrate that the multicast system can work, and IntelSat hopes to be able to offer the platform commercially in mid-1999, Stevenson said. The results of the tests, along with ideas about more general applications of multicasting, will be presented at a summit IntelSat is scheduled to hold in Washington, D.C., Dec. 10 and 11.
Besides Internet access, the system could be used for delivery of real-time music and sports events, as well as streaming video. The system could also be used as a platform for providing "virtual private network" type services for corporate customers, Stevenson said. For example, a company could put together a training package for its global workforce and multicast to local servers during off-peak hours when the Internet is less congested. The workers could then take part in interactive training sessions via the local kiosk server during peak hours, he said.
Teleglobe, based in Montreal, can be reached via the World Wide Web at http://www.teleglobe.com/.
IntelSat, in Washington, D.C., can be contacted on the Web at