Managing Internet Data: Saving Clients Time And Money

By | April 1, 2004 | Feature, Telecom

Benjamin Franklin once said, in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. If he were alive today, he may have added that nothing is certain but death, taxes and the astounding growth of Internet data traffic. For proof, consider trans-Atlantic traffic totals between Europe and North America. According to Telegeography Research, trans-Atlantic Internet traffic consumed 388 Gbs of bandwidth in 2003, up 67 percent compared to 2002. Based on this growth, Telegeography expects trans-Atlantic Internet traffic to hit 648 Gbs in 2004, 1,082 Gbs in 2005 and 1,806 Gbs in 2006. Meanwhile, this Washington, DC-based consultant firm also predicts that Trans-Pacific Internet traffic will grow from its 2003 total of 92 Gbs to 153 Gbs in 2004, 256 Gbs in 2005 and 427 Gbs in 2006.

For the satellite industry, IP traffic growth offers a tremendous range of new sales opportunities.

The obvious ones are Internet backbone service, satellite broadband, "e-mail anywhere" for business and consumers, and specialized IP hardware. Providing cost-effective IP transmissions via satellite, however, also creates niches for products that optimize network performance, minimize bandwidth demand and manage content delivery.

Internet Backbone

Today, the vast majority of popular Web sites are located in the United States and Europe. As a result, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who want to provide solid solutions to clients must link to these sites, even if the clients need worldwide connectivity. The best way to do this is through high bandwidth Internet backbone channels. These backbones connect ISPs directly to Europe and North America, ensuring fast and reliable access to the World Wide Web.

Not surprisingly, satellite service providers are eagerly pursuing the Internet backbone access business model. Intelsat Ltd., for example, through its GlobalConnex Internet Trunking Service, (ITS) offers end-to-end solutions throughout its satellite fleet. "ITS is developed to provide direct, high-speed U.S. and European Internet backbone connectivity to small- and mid-sized Internet Service Providers (ISPs), operating in remote locations throughout the world where telecommunications infrastructure is minimal or even nonexistent," says Intelsat Ltd. COO Ramu Potarazu.

GlobalConnex ITS comes in three service levels. Shared User Group offers downloads at speeds from 128 kbs to 2 Mbs, and uploads from 64 to 512 kbs. It aims at multiple locations that belong to a single organization. Internet trunking Basic provides downloads at speeds ranging from 128 kbs to 8 Mbs, and uplinks from 64 kbs to 2 Mbs. It is a service aimed at Tier 2/3 ISPs. Dedicated Internet Trunking helps Tier 1 ISPs connect to the U.S./European backbone in force, with its 4-45 Mbs download and 1-8 Mbs upload speeds.

As one of the global suppliers of multimedia transmissions, BT Broadcast Services (BTBS) also offers a fully managed, integrated, global digital network that includes a terrestrial network that seamlessly connect clients worldwide to the Internet. BT’s global fiber network gives customers digital connectivity between Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and London, enabling uplink and downlink of content to and from almost any location worldwide.

Satellite Broadband

People’s desire to access the Web from anywhere spawned a number of satellite-based solutions. Satellite broadband solutions provide a vast array of applications to a diverse market base that has end users incorporating space-based technology into their business plans.

For instance, BTBS is targeting the Internet market by providing end-to-end broadband Internet access via its global networks. In particular, BTBS is targeting those areas where terrestrial broadband connections are poor or nonexistent. Through this technology, video streaming, digital terrestrial television, high-speed Internet access and digital business television are all capable.

Meanwhile, Gilat Satellite Networks’ Spacenet subsidiary is pitching two-way high-speed satellite connections via VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminals). Spacenet delivers downlink speeds up to 52.5 Mbs, and uplinks up to 307 kbs.

In order to capture the high-speed business market, Spacenet launched Connexstar. It is a VSAT solution that provides customers with secure DSL-comparable transmission speeds, multiple simultaneous Internet connections on one network (to support multiple users) throughout the United States.

Direcway is Hughes Network Systems’ flagship product for satellite broadband for a variety of markets. For homeowners and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), Direcway provides always-on download speeds up to 1 Mbs, and satellite uplinks up to 128 kbs. For large enterprises and government, Direcway provides an end-to-end broadband satellite platform at similar speeds, plus supports the distribution of file downloads to multiple sites simultaneously, and handles two-way credit and debit card transactions. Direcway also supports two-way distance learning, telemedicine, Virtual Private Networks and various other business applications.

E-mail Anywhere

For Internet users, e-mail remains one of the killer applications. This is why Mobile Satellite Ventures teamed with Global Synergies to create a straightforward solution for people needing e-mail access anywhere in North America.

Once the user installs Global Synergies’ Satcom software on their PC, they then connect an EMS Technologies PDT-100 mobile satellite terminal to their computer, which connects them to MSV’s packet data network. The result is instant e-mail access to their desktop, with the ability to work in Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape or Eudora e-mail programs. One current customer is the University of Connecticut, which relies on this service to provide its ocean-going research ship RV Connecticut with e-mail access while at sea.

"We are seeing major interest in e-mail applications enabled by our packet data service within the marine sector," says Jeff Cotroneo, MSV’s packet data product manager. "Having the Internet available provides these customers with a cost-effective and reliable way to backhaul their data."

Internet Connectivity Hardware

Theoretically, most satellite equipment can be adapted to carry IP Internet traffic. Polarsat, however, has narrowed its focus by specializing in Internet-centric earth station products.

At the budget end of the scale, Polarsat’s SkyIP is a one channel FlexiDAMA terminal that provides a single IP connection via satellite. Up one notch, the Full FlexiDAMA satellite terminal supports up to six data or voice uplink channels, or a mix of the two. Speeds vary from 9.6/16/32 kbs for incoming voice/fax data, 1.2 to 28.8 kbs for asynchronous data, 9.6 kbs to 2.048 Mbs for synchronous data and up to 10 Mbs for 10baseT Ethernet traffic.

At the top end of the scale, Polarsat’s VSATPlus 2 backbone satellite terminal supports multiple data and voice channels (Frame Relay, sync/async data, analog/digital voice), with an overall uplink speed up to 10 Mbs (includes encoding prior to modulation). The VSATPlus 2 can support everything from a small office Local Area Network to a large enterprise network, or multiservice voice/data telecom network in an isolated community.

Network Management

Planning is vital to effective Internet traffic management. Otherwise, precious satellite bandwidth could be wasted, increasing costs while reducing satellite carriage capacity for users.

To address this need, Optimal Satcom developed Complan, which is a capacity management tool that allows satcom engineers to work out every aspect of their networks.

"Complan includes accurate models for the nonlinear characteristics of the satellite, as well as models for all the major impairments encountered by a satellite link and can be used to accurately predict link performance," says Ahsun Murad, Optimal Satcom’s president and CEO. "Complan’s powerful optimization engine makes it easy to efficiently allocate satellite capacity (power and bandwidth) to maximize throughput. It is also easy to perform complex tradeoffs (bandwidth vs. power, space-segment vs. ground-segment, transmit vs. receive), which are required in the design of cost-effective satellite networks."

Bandwidth Optimization

Satellite transmissions have two shortcomings. First, it takes 0.12 seconds for signals to travel 22,300 from the Earth to a geostationary satellite and another 0.12 seconds to return to Earth again. This may not sound like much, but such delays can play havoc with IP traffic.

To remedy this problem, Mentat designed its SkyX products to deliver faster data transmissions via satellite, while minimizing the amount of bandwidth needed. "The combination of TCP [Transmission Control Protocol], HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol], compression and multicast acceleration techniques offers users the fastest download speeds while using the least amount of bandwidth," says Mentat President Kay Guyer.

SkyX does this in four ways. First, this software mitigates the latency (time delay) problems associated with sending IP files over satellites, by converting the files to a satellite-optimized protocol. Second, SkyX compresses the data files before transmission and then decompresses them at the receiving end, to effectively speed up file transfer times. Third, SkyX’s PreFetch and FastStart features can make Web browsing by satellite up to eight times faster than usual. Finally, SkyX’s Multicast Fan-Out can multicast a file to every single receive site at once, saving on bandwidth usage.

Meanwhile, Helius’ MediaWrite product improves bandwidth use through a time-honored technique: organization. MediaWrite achieves this by allowing customers to schedule downloads of large files, including video, at off-peak hours. At the sending end, the MediaWrite server manages transmission times, data compression and signal multiplexing. At the downlink end, MediaWrite clients ensure the file has arrived safely and requests retransmission of any missed bits.

From an Internet data standpoint, MediaWrite can be a lifesaver. Through multicasting, thousands of receive sites can get the same file at the same time, all from one origination point. "This is relevant because it can greatly ease the burden of a terrestrial network needing to deliver rich media or extremely large files," says Mike Tippets, Helius’ senior vice president. "Whether to one location or 1,000 locations, the multicast nature of satellite means that all locations will receive the content simultaneously and the greater bandwidth capabilities of satellite mean it will get there faster."

The efficient and reliable delivery of IP data via satellite is one of the most paramount requirements of any client. Comtech EF Data’s Vipersat end-to-end solution enables delivering IP data for various business applications.

"Vipersat is configured to maximize bandwidth use," says Tim Floerchinger, Comtech Vipersat’s vice president of sales and marketing. "For instance, if you’re running both dedicated SCPC (Single Channel Per Channel) and shared TDMA (Time Division Multiplex Access) networks, Vipersat can switch traffic dynamically between them to provide fast, efficient signal delivery." The product is entirely IP-centric, runs in a Windows-style user environment and can assume remote command of Comtech satellite modems with ease.

Content Delivery Management

Content delivery is the essence of Internet traffic. It can also be the bane of Internet users, due to the Web’s legendary traffic jams.

International Datacasting Corp.’s new Datacast XD software keeps content moving smoothly. Datacast XD contains ‘modules’ that manage, multicast/transmit, and receive data files over an IP network. For instance, XD Schedule Manager allows users to multicast files based on a 24/7 schedule, a continuous "carousel" (repeating the same list of files over and over), or as needed/ad hoc. XD Stream Manager handles on-the-fly encryption of audio and video streams, while XD Playlist Manager creates accessible file menus of data, Web and streamed media files; all of which can be delivered and controlled from retail-based kiosks, among other sites. National Public Radio (NPR) is using Datacast XD to distribute programming to its 770 member stations via satellite. NPR is currently testing IDC Superflex satellite receivers and Datacast XD in its headend test lab.

In a different vein, BTBS content management solution helps audio/video producers digitize, catalog and stream their products across the Internet, so they can sell access on a per-program or per-channel basis to subscribers. "This development validates recent research on trends in entertainment and communications," says Mark Smith, BTBS’ managing director. "People don’t just sit in front of the TV anymore–they want their entertainment wherever they are, and they want to interact and feel involved in the experience. Content owners realized that this social shift will bring new commercial models worth more than the old models–but only if the underpinning technology makes them simple and cost- effective to manage."

More Apps Are Needed

Clearly, the global satellite industry has recognized the opportunities inherent in the current Internet data expansion, and is doing its best to exploit them. More breakthroughs will be required, however, if satellites are to compete effectively with bargain-priced fiber optic networks. The key to success lies in minimizing the problems of satellite transmission–limited bandwidth and signal latency–while promoting satellite’s ability to deliver data to an entire world with just one broadcast. Fortunately, many satellite companies have already grasped this truth and are creating products accordingly.

As Via Satellite’s senior contributing editor, James Careless has covered all aspects of the global satellite industry for years.

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