The Internet Group’s high-speed StarNet service “starts installing real customers” today - although the launch will involve only a test group of 200 customers, rather than the 800 initially envisaged.
Ihug director NickWood says the company will prepare “a big, flash launch” for StarNet at the home computing Expo next month, the same show which at which the company launched its highly successful flat-rate Internet access scheme two years ago.
StarNet uses a microwave broadcast from Auckland’s SkyTower to achieve downstream speeds of up to 500Kbit/s (upstream traffic goes back to Ihug through a conventional modem). Users need to invest in a PC expansion card and a small satellite dish, as a cost of about $800.
Although the Expo launch will principally attract home users, Wood says business customers have also been interested in StarNet. The company no longer offers leased-line accounts - presumably indicating its intent to move business customers to wireless.
“It’s basically the people who can afford it who are interested at the moment, but as the hardware comes down over time, more people will come into the market.”
Ihug has began taking names for StarNet services outside Auckland - which would require a larger dish and come direct from the PanAmSat satellite which provides the bulk of Ihug’s international bandwidth. But Wood says action on the plan will depend on the uptake of StarNet in Auckland.
“Some time in the New Year, we’ll attempt to put in a new site, but that may be in Australia. We’ll look at the uptake, because there’s no point in investing millions of dollars in equipment if no one’s using it.”
One thing Ihug will not be considering is following Telstra into licensing DirecPC, the consumer Internet delivery service owned by PanAmSat.
“Why would we want to do that? We’ve got our own service, we don’t need theirs - which is rubbish anyway. Good luck to Telstra with it, frankly.”
Ihug remains easily the biggest customer in PanAmSat’s growing international IP business, and as of its November 1 upgrade, will boast international bandwidth 30mbit/s.
“That’s more than everyone else in the country put together,” says Wood. “We’ve got a half transponder which we take ownership of on that day. That’s 27Mbits, and we’ve got some fibre too.”
It’s the kind of bandwidth which conjures thoughts of digital TV broadcasting, which “might be” on the cards, according to Wood.
“We do plan to look at it as an option - but it’s not something we’ve vigorously pursued so far.”