Stratellite service to challenge ADSL

A trio of former telecommunications executives hopes to offer high-speed wireless broadband via low-orbit 'stratellites' to Australian companies as early as next year.

Rather than orbiting in deep space, the blimp-like stratellites hover in a fixed position around 21 kilometres above the earth and provide voice and date services to a defined region via on-board telecommunications equipment. Each of the stratellites measure around 80 by 30 metres and has a coverage area of around 200 kilometres.

Bob Johnson, who previously headed up Telstra's Sensis division, has joined up with Michael Terry (ex Alcatel) and John Hardy (ex Motorola) to license the technology from US company Sanswire, a division of IP applications provider Globetel. Globetel itself only announced plans to acquire Sanswire US in March; that purchase was finalised last week. The trio has committed $US20 million to the venture.

Johnson believes there is great potential for stratellites as a price-effective alternative to ADSL and other fixed line networks. "We seized the opportunity to bring the technology to Australia for several reasons," he told Computerworld. "Firstly, from a timing point of view, the demand for broadband services here is just now starting to take off. Secondly, ISPs are looking for ways to be more competitive and break their dependence on purchasing ADSL services from Telstra."

Sanswire Australia doesn't plan on offering a retail service using the system. "We intend to allow existing carriers and ISPs to broadcast from the stratellite platform using their own equipment or ours," Johnson said. "In effect they will be able to migrate their existing business and residential customers to the Stratellite platform and solicit new customers from a wider service area. In addition, we are receiving expressions of interest from companies and government agencies with multiple locations which want to better manage their internal wide area networks."

Actual speeds of the service in Australia have not been released. However, this would depend on the equipment mounted on the stratellite. Sanswire is talking about the potential to have 3G and 4G phone services, making it a fast service. But this all depends on who wants to sell the services.

The first test stratellites in the US are due to be launched mid-year. If that test proves successful, Johnson anticipates that an Australian service could be in place by mid-2005. That would make it the first commercial implementation of the technology.

The Sanswire technology is one of several current attempts to diversify the range of wireless broadband services on offer. Other companies with plans for the local market include Personal Broadband Australia and Access Providers, as well as the major local telcos.

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