Germany poised to lead in broadband over satellite

Soon Germans will need to find an excuse why they don't have a high-speed Internet connection. Not only does Germany boast the most line-based DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connections in Europe, the country also is poised to take the lead in the rollout of broadband services provided over satellites.

This month Deutsche Telekom AG (DT) in Bonn, Germany, and Hot Telecommunications (Deutschland) GmbH in Griesheim, Germany, a fully owned company of Hughes Network Systems Europe in Darmstadt, Germany, launched an array of new satellite broadband services. The operators join others, such as Strato AG in Berlin, that are seeking either to extend their DSL footprint or target new customer groups with their satellite broadband offerings.

DT's satellite service is aimed specifically at private and small business users the operator can't reach with its wireline DSL service. About 10 percent of the population will not be covered by its land-based offering, according to spokesman Walter Genz. "We said from the start that we won't be able to extend DSL to all parts of Germany for cost reasons, so this is a solution aimed to fill the gaps," he said. "The satellite service is not aimed at potential DSL customers because they're clearly better off with a fixed-line service. It's cheaper."

DT is partnering with SES Global SA of Luxembourg, which operates the Astra satellite. The service provides a 768K bps (bits per second) downlink via satellite and a 64K bps or tunneled 124K bps over the ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) channel. Users require an Astra dish and either a DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) PC card or DVB USB (Universal Serial Bus) set-top box. They can choose between two tariffs: €19.90 (US$18.27) per month for 500M bytes, with each additional megabyte costing €0.05; or €39.90 per month with no limit on volume. In addition, they must have an ISDN connection, which costs about €32, and an Internet account. DT's Internet arm, T-Online AG in Darmstadt, offers access plans with a combined phone discount starting at €5 per month and €0.01 per minute.

It's not cheap, to say the least. DT's DSL users, by comparison, pay about €14 a month for the connection and about €5 for an unmetered, all-you-can-eat Internet service, in addition to the €32 per month ISDN connection. In fact, the relatively low fee is one of the reasons why the service is so popular in the country. At the end of April, DT had contracts for 2.4 million DSL connections, of which 2.3 million were installed. The operator is signing up approximately 700,000 new customers a month.

By contrast, Hughes Network Systems Europe is targeting remote corporate workers and small and medium-size businesses with its two-way broadband service. "We're targeting small office and home workers and businesses that operate a network of offices or service centers spread across Germany or Europe for that matter," said spokesman Dieter Renner. "We're providing them with seamless IP connectivity for them to hook up with whatever ISP (Internet service provider) they choose."

Hughes Network Systems was among the first in Europe to role out VSAT (very small aperture terminal) services when the European market for satellite services opened up over 15 years ago. Its satellite services have proved popular with larger international enterprises operating across Europe, according to Renner. Micro Compact Car smart GmbH (MCC) in Renningen, Germany, became a customer in 1998 and has meanwhile connected more than 200 smart dealers across Europe via satellite. Hartwig Farber, director of information management at MCC, which is a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler AG in Stuttgart, Germany, said the company needs still greater speeds to run video applications and, to that end, is collaborating with Hughes to hike capacity.

But the new Hughes Network Systems service targets smaller groups as well -- and not only in remote locations. Packages start as low as €150 per month for a flat-rate service, with a download speed of 512K bps and an upload speed of 64K bps. Popular with many enterprise customers is the higher-speed flat-rate service, offering 1,024K bps downstream and 128K bps upstream, which costs approximately €250 per month per computer. Hughes Network Systems markets the service through resellers, several of which are targeting cable TV companies and apartment building owners.

Earlier in the year, the ISP Strato launched one of Germany's first broadband satellite services. For $39.30 per month, customers can download 500M bytes at speeds up to 1.6M bps and upload at 64K bps or 124K bps tunneled. Heavy data users can select a higher-speed package: €54.90 per month for a 4M bps downstream link and 64K or 124K bps upstream, including 1G byte.

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