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Satellite and wireless broadband in the mix
Friday 04 July 2003 13:57:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Purbeck Satellite are due start demonstrating their satellite/wireless combined service from July 12th in Swanage.

They are planning to use a Wi-Fi wireless system to distribute the connection in the local area, and the backhaul will be provided via a satellite connection. Unfortunately there is very little accurate technical data on the service, the Wi-Fi is listed as 11mg speed, which we assume means 802.11b 11Mbps, which in real world means 5.5Mbps of traffic shared between people on that node.

The use of a satellite connection for backhaul is interesting, since this rules out online gaming, which for a growing number of people is their reason for wanting broadband. Purbeck Satellite do point out the 0.5 second latency this will generate and that gaming will only be possible between local users on the wireless segment. They also suggest that in comparison to ADSL and cable modem services that 0.5 seconds is not that bad, and that these 'cable' technologies "can be slow send to send 'mouse clicks'". Something that online gamers with BlueYonder, NTL and ADSL providers will be sure to dispute, as generally latency runs at 0.02 to 0.04 seconds. With around two million cable/ADSL users in the UK if the performance was as slow as suggested there would be a lot of complaints.

The actual site offering the service is very disappointing, Satellite Internet access has a crucial role to play in ensuring total Broadband coverage of the UK, but selling any service based on mis-information is doing that industry a disservice. One should remember what they say on their own website "DONT BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE IN THE ADVERTS! No broadband works with such awesome ability to transmit everything it comes across with lightening speed". Much is made of the problems of contention on the 'cable' services, which from the wording used refers to ADSL, interestingly Purbeck Satellite neglect to mention their own contention ratios after saying other providers do not publish their ratios. It is believed that the basic £29.99 service will have a 50:1 ratio which makes it the same as ADSL, therefore potentially as good or bad in that respect.

One interesting statement made is that Purbeck is not an Internet Service Provider, an ISP account will be required to access the Internet. Which is strange, as reading the site one gets the impression that is the whole purpose of the system, we would advise anyone considering the service to determine precisely what this means. We have emailed Purbeck to get clarification. One other concern from the consumers point of view is that installation is listed at £249.99 but later it is mentioned that "Installation costs may vary depending upon individual circumstances". Additionally it is not clear whether pricing includes or excludes VAT.

Interestingly Swanage hit its BT ADSL trigger on 25th June, so will probably get the full 512kbps and 2Mbps services around October 2003. Though Purbeck Satellite likes to play on peoples fears that they will be not be within the 3.5km and 5.5km distance limits, which in some cases may be true, but the vast majority should be able to receive a service. The latest news is that leaflets have being distributed to parents via pupils of Swanage Middle School that promote the satellite based service. Additionally it appears the school is to have the Satellite dish installed at it which we presume means it will function as the base station also for the wireless service.

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