TVNZ looks to the skies

TVNZ is trialling a satellite-based system from a Kuwaiti company that will allow subscribers to access the Internet at speeds of up to 8Mbit/s and deliver so-called near-on-demand movies to the user. The system, called ZakNet, is offered by ZakSat, a specialist in satellite communications in the Middle East.

TVNZ is trialling a satellite-based system from a Kuwaiti company that will allow subscribers to access the Internet at speeds of up to 8Mbit/s and deliver so-called near-on-demand movies to the user.

"We're not unaware of the potential for online movies, games and the like," says New Media general manager Reg Russ.

The system, called ZakNet, is offered by ZakSat, a specialist in satellite communications in the Middle East. It involves hooking a satellite dish into a PC or server via PCI card to receive data from the Internet. Users will still need an ISP connection to request information, but it is downloaded to the user's machine from ZakNet's operations centre in the Philippines via the AsiaSat II satellite. Since only the return traffic is routed through the satellite, any local bottleneck is avoided, meaning speeds of 200Kbit/s are standard, with up to 8Mbit/s possible.

The beauty of the ZakNet system, according to marketing director Abbas Aly, is that only one dish is needed per network, reducing the costs involved with Internet connection.

"You need only purchase one modem, have the cheapest ISP connection available to you and the ZakNet system and real-time full-motion video-conferencing would be available."

Because the system is still relatively expensive, he believes it will appeal to corporate users more than the home user.

Russ stresses that the test is only in its early days and that no decision has been made on providing such a service in New Zealand. There are problems with the AsiaSat II signal, which is low on the horizon and prone to interference. TVNZ has a 9m dish pointed at the satellite but the usual dish is a more modest 90cm. But Russ says ZakSat is more than willing to learn and improve its facilities with TVNZ's help.

"They know a lot about telecommunications, but broadcast quality is a different thing altogether."

If this sounds familiar, it's probably because the Internet Group (Ihug) launched a similar service last year.

StarNet is currently available in limited numbers only in Auckland. The major difference between the two systems is that StarNet is broadcast from the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland instead of a satellite. That looks set to change next month as Ihug rolls out the service nationwide, with the signal being beamed directly from a satellite. Ihug's Australian customers won't miss out, either, according to marketing manager Brent Ayrey.

"Compared with other options for connecting to the Internet it's incredibly cost-effective."

Ayrey also alludes to a number of added services Ihug hopes to offer in the near future, including streaming video.

"Quite soon we're going to be running stuff off the Sky Tower along the lines of TV and that sort of thing." Ayrey says that while Sky Net has appeal for business users, schools are taking advantage of the service, as well as home users. Speed is the major factor, coupled with the low cost.

"We're really only just starting to discover all the implications of the increased speeds."

TVNZ has several options open to it if the system does become viable. One alternative would have TVNZ acting simply as content provider, selling the service to existing ISPs. Another scenario could see TVNZ becoming an ISP itself, although this is less likely.

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