With offices from coast to coast and beyond, the U.S. Postal Service uses VSAT technology to ensure that each of its 40,000 sites retains broadband connectivity to its intranet no matter what the terrain or climate. Beginning next year, even the most far-flung private enterprises will have similar options at a price somewhere between that of T-1 and business DSL rates.
The Postal Services private VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, network from Spacenet Inc., a subsidiary of Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd., of Petach Tikva, Israel, is the worlds largest, and much of the connectivity is provided through WorldCom Inc. The system is optimal as stand-alone infrastructure at remote sites and in small-town offices that do not need the full bandwidth provided by terrestrial systems, said Tim Patterson, a manager with the Postal Service, in Washington. It has also proved effective as a backup to frame relay links in urban settings, such as in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Patterson said.
Starting next year, WorldCom will make similar two-way satellite broadband services available to private enterprises on a wide scale, but for this service, it is partnering with Spacenets main rival, Hughes Network Systems, a division of Hughes Electronics Corp. of El Segundo, Calif. The service will use Hughes DirecWay technology, announced in June, and it will connect VSAT users directly to WorldComs Internet backbone.
WorldCom styles itself as the first "major data services provider" to offer commercial two-way satellite broadband access for businesses throughout the continental United States. The carrier chose Hughes for the broad-based commercial service because of its experience with Layer 3 IP networking and corporate installation, said Ralph Montfort, director of Internet services at WorldCom, in Clinton, Miss.
DirecWay, which is largely an outgrowth of satellite TV technology, provides asymmetric transmission speeds, making it effective for applications such as multicasting, data casting, streaming video, caching, distance learning and video on demand. It is not effective for real-time interaction such as videoconferencing, however.
WorldCom has not set pricing for the service yet, according to Montfort, but it will fall somewhere between the carriers fractional T-1 and business DSL (digital subscriber line) service rates. The premium over DSL stems from higher downstream bandwidth and greater geographic reach.
"128K bits in our minds is still a heck of a lot better than dial," Montfort said, adding that users would notice considerable delay when sending very large files, such as Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint presentations.
Last week, WorldCom also made two enhanced terrestrial Internet access services for enterprises available nationwide via its own network infrastructure. A new Gigabit Ethernet Port-Only service offers businesses a way to upgrade to faster connections—up to 622M bps—using Ethernet LAN technologies. WorldCom is promoting it as an easy and cost-effective alternative to dedicated optical links.
Another new terrestrial service targeted at service providers and enterprises moving huge volumes of data is WorldComs OC-48 service.