Sky Tower "satellite" spearheads Ihug's 500k home service

The Internet Group has began taking subscriptions for a 'horizontal' satellite service offering download speeds of up to 500Kbit/s - for $59 a month. Star Net, as the service is called, will initially be limited to 1000 customers in Auckland only and is expected to be running by the end of September.

The Internet Group has began taking subscriptions for a "horizontal" satellite service offering download speeds of up to 500Kbit/s - for $59 a month.

Star Net, as the service is called, will initially be limited to 1000 customers in Auckland only and is expected to be running by the end of September.

Ihug director Tim Wood says the company began look at options for high speed services last December, and has tested the Star Net technology extensively in recent months.

Although the system will use satellite broadcasting and users will need to install dishes, the "satellite" in the Auckland region will be at the top of the Sky Tower.

"You'll dial in as normal on your modem, which means your outbound traffic is only 28.8 or whatever speed you have, but the filter tells your inbound stuff to come in on the satellite. We'll try and offer 128k at peak times and up to 500k off-peak, and it'll be run separately - separate dial-in numbers and international bandwidth," says Wood.

"Our international feed comes down as usual to the dish on our roof and that then feeds out to the satellite we broadcast from ourselves, up to the satellite which then broadcasts out to the customer. It's got about a 200km range."

International satellite bandwidth from Ihug's existing provider, PanAmSat is working pretty well, despite dire predictions from some quarters that it would be useless for Web browsing. Wood says the 1Mbit/s direct satellite feeds going to Ihug's POPs in Dunedin and Christchurch are a huge improvement on the frame relay circuits the company had been leasing.

The system requires users to use a roof-mounted dish and a PCI card and is presently available only for PCs running Windows 95. If the system goes well, Southern users will have data delivered straight from the sky, requiring a larger (80cm) dish and an as-yet unavailable card.

"We're still finalising the satellite cards," says Wood."There are nine or 10 companies making them and we're just trying to get the best price. It's so cutting-edge that half the stuff isn't actually out for a month. The card we have at the moment is a little bit long, size-wise, but there's a new one coming which is half the size."

The Star Net service will be available at two rates - $59 monthly for 60 hours, and a $79 flat rate" which we added because people wanted it. We should actually make a little extra profit on this, but it works on the same basis as our Diamond Account - we lay out extra bandwidth as we need it. And that extra $20 or $40 a month will go into that bandwidth."

The company will also have learned from its previous experiences with new services - including the original flat rate account, which was swamped by demand, and the spread spectrum radio service it touted, "which no one wanted," says Wood. "It was too expensive to set up, basically

This time, there is a cap on the numbers and an 18 month financing plan is available for those who require it.

"We've been working on that, because some people don't wanna fork out $900 all at once," says Wood. "But a 56k modem is about $700 at the moment and you're not going to get 56k out of it anyway."

Installations will be carried out by a third-party company, says Wood.

"And the thing is, once the dish and card are installed, you don't even need to be connected to get stuff. You can just have your PC on and we can broadcast stuff like news, email and weather information straight to your PC."

Such a network could also be turned to conventional broadcast use, something Wood concedes is a possibility in the future.

Details are available at: http://www.star.net.nz

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