Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2005

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

"More Choices for Broadband"
By John Anderson

Feeling left out of the broadband boom because you can’t get cable or digital subscriber line Internet access? Well, there are other options available that you might not have considered.

Satellite Internet
If you can get a clear view of the southern sky, you can access the Internet via satellite to get streaming media, download big files or just surf the Web faster.

DIRECTWAY, a leading broadband by satellite service provider, offers satellite Internet access for consumers, small business and large-enterprise markets. They are marketed by Hughes Network Systems, which is an operating unit of The DIRECTV Group.

DIRECTWAY satellite Internet is a super-fast, always-on Internet connection that is ready when you are. Just like cable and DSL, you have no dialing in, no waiting and no tied-up phone lines. It is a great improvement over dial-up that will let you download files in seconds, quickly access and play audio or video clips and surf faster (though not as fast as its ubiquitous competitors).

There’s no software to load, and you can use the service with either Windows or Mac computers. Satellite Internet also has an advantage over its competitors – you can get it anywhere! All you need is a clear view of the southern sky; if you do, you can be a member of the broadband community.

Satellite service was originally restricted to high-speed downloads. All outgoing request required a dial-up connection to send information to a ground station that would then send it to the satellite. Now providers use bidirectional units that don’t require use of the phone line.

While satellites give you high-speed Internet, the distance between the satellite and your dish does produce a micro-fraction time delay or ‘latency’ during transmissions, which may not be perfect for online gaming or online trading that need split-second reactions.

Latency is caused by the very long distance that satellite transmissions must traverse; hence, a satellite connection has a higher latency than a typical terrestrial connection. The GEO satellites used for two-way Internet service are located approximately 23,000 miles above the equator. This means that a round-trip transmission travels 23,000 miles to the satellite, 23,000 miles from the satellite to the remote site and then, as the TCP/IP acknowledgment is returned, another 46,000 miles on the return trip, for a total round trip of about 92,000 miles. This is roughly equal to a signal traveling around the circumference of the Earth four times. Even at the near light-speed of the transmission, this accounts for more delay than found in a terrestrial network.

DIRECTWAY offers several price plans, but expect to pay high up-front costs ($599.98) or a high monthly fee ($99.99).

Other providers of Satellite Internet Service include Skycasters ( www.skycasters.com ) and Starband ( www.starband.com ).

High-Powered Internet
Broadband over power lines.
Broadband Internet service delivered over ordinary electric power lines (BPL) would create a third broadband choice and could help drive down broadband prices by creating widespread competition for cable modem and DSL services.

Because power lines already run everywhere, BPL could also bring broadband services to areas that do not have any other broadband options.

Once the signal reaches a business or home, the BPL technology allows users to plug a modem into any electrical outlet for a broadband connection.

BPL systems require a connection from the Internet backbone at a power substation, repeaters and couplers along the power lines. A final converter transfers the signal from the medium-voltage transmission lines to the low-voltage lines that go into homes and businesses. Some BPL trials have used Wi-Fi to bypass the final converter.

Some people remain concerned with the potential interference to radio transmissions from BPL systems since they are not shielded to prevent radio interference in the same manner as telephone and cable lines. Amateur radio operators, in particular, have opposed BPL due to interference that disrupts their broadcasts.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has imposed technical requirements on BPL equipment and establishing “excluded frequency bands” that BPL must entirely avoid to protect aeronautical and aircraft communications.

Now that the technology has passed the theoretical stage and is now in real use, electric companies still have to convince the pubic that they can be a provider for broadband communication and overcome perceived problems by consumers looking into this new technology.

Customers can expect to be able to buy BPL service for $29.95 to $39.95 a month, depending on the connection speed.

Fiber optic. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you may have another choice for broadband. This service is for those select few who live right on top of the service area. The good news is that you can cruise the Web at 5 megabits per second (mbps) for about $40 a month; the bad news is that it is currently only available in Keller, Texas, Rhode Island and Massachusetts with a couple more cities due to come online soon. Verizon’s Fios program runs an honest-to-goodness fiber-optic cable right to your doorstep. They also offer a 15-mbps fiber-optic package (five- to 10-times faster than cable or DSL) for $50, or $45 if you have Verizon phone service, and a 30-mbps version for a price yet to be determined.

There are certainly more options out there than you might expect. Chances are you will find what you need and be prepared for all of the new technologies on our doorstep.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2005

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