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Web Exclusive: Broadband in Japan

By | March 10, 2001

      Delivering Content To The Edge Of The Net

      According to Japan’s Telecommunications White Paper 2000, Internet end-users in Japan reached 27 million at the end of 1999 and end-user subscriber numbers are predicted to increase to more than 76 million by 2005. As for Internet Service Providers (ISP), Japan’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications says that 4,234 were registered at the end of March 2000. Within this active market there are four major companies offering satellite-delivered broadband content to the edge of the Internet for users in Japan. These Japanese trailblazers are trying to overcome terrestrial limitations by bypassing congested landlines and offering cost-competitive, accelerated delivery of multimedia content to Internet users.


      Space Communications Co. (SCC), a licensee of Hughes Network Systems, is one of the Type 1 Telecommunications carriers in Japan and its broadband business department is marketing the well-known satellite-based Internet delivery service called DirecPC. SCC rolled out DirecPC in October 1996 and became the first Internet Service Provider via satellite for the island nation.

      SCC uses Ku-band capacity from Superbird 1 (located at 158 degreesE) and Superbird 4 at 162 degreesE verify. The system consists of a Network Operation Center (NOC) in Ibaraki Prefecture, an uplink station co-located with the NOC and user terminals spread throughout Japan. SCC is headquartered in Higashishinagawa,Tokyo.

      SCC is offering three kinds of services: TurboIntranet and Internet Service, Mutimedia Data Pipe Service, and Package Delivery Service. As for the TurboIntranet and Internet Service, customers have to install a DirecPC LAN Advantage router (DirecPC LA), or a DirecPC Access Kit (DAK) or a set-top receiver with USB interface for connecting laptop PCs. In the case of DirecPC LA, the transmission speed is a maximum of 2.5 Mbps per 1 TCP/IP. The users of both DAK and the set-top receiver will enjoy 400 kbps service. The receiving antenna is generally 45 centimeters, but some particular users at the edge of the beam are advised to install a larger antenna of 60 centimeters. With Package Delivery Service, customers can move large files quickly and accurately with a maximum transport speed of 24 Mbps. SCC indicates that its customers now number more than 40 and that user sites reached 15,000 at the end of July 2000. At the time of the CATV 2000 Show held in June 2000 in Tokyo, SCC proposed an Internet broadcast backbone solution called HitPops. Under the new program, CATV operator ISPs can receive bandwidth-intensive, premium content by subscribing to HitPops. Spring 2001 is the present target to launch this commercial service via Superbird 3 at 144 degrees E.


      Direct Internet Corp. (DIC), also a licensee of Hughes Network Systems, is a Special Type 2 Telecommunications carrier in Japan and started its service in May 1997. This is the second company in Japan to roll out DirecPC. From this writer’s observation, DIC is unique in trying to provide satellite-based Internet delivery service directly to the home user and small office/home office, whereas SCC’s customers are LAN/WAN intensive corporations.

      It is noteworthy that DIC’s NOC and uplink facilities are located on the premises of Panamsat International Systems in Napa, CA. DIC’s shareholders are Hitachi Cable Ltd. (HCL), Japan Telecom Co. Ltd., Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Ltd., and Tomen Corp., with the majority share of 52.25 percent held by HCL.

      DIC’s customers can expect to receive four kinds of services, namely, Turbo Internet Service, Package Delivery Service, MultiCast News Feed (MCNF), and Web Cache Pre-Population Service (WCPP). Turbo Internet Service enables users to downlink the requested data at up to 400 kbps via the PAS 2 satellite. Users in Japan can enjoy the on-demand type service of Unicast just like the users in the United States by installing a DAK in their PC. MCNF specializes in broadband connectivity for worldwide news. The subscribers of MCNF can receive a torrent of news from ISPs or Internet friends at a speed of 3 to 3.5 Mbps directly from the PAS 2 satellite. WCPP is still in the experimental stage. DIC and the Tokyo Cable Network are jointly trying to build this satellite-delivered cache system in the form of high-speed, temporary storage for contents that need to be rapidly available for CATV subscribers. Their experiment will reveal how much the hit ratio will increase by pre-populating the frequently and newly accessed contents in the cache of CATV Networks. With WCPP service, CATV operators can avoid Internet content transport bottlenecks. It should bypass complicated routes and traffic congestion on land-based networks and also improve viewing quality. The number of current users is not disclosed, but one of the largest wholesalers of automobile equipment in Japan, Autobacks Seven, is listed as a top customer of DIC.


      The third Japanese company to start satellite-delivered broaband services, NTT Satellite Communications Corp. (NTT-SC), was established on April 1, 1998, as a General Type 2 Telecommunications carrier. Its main shareholders are NTT Communications Corp. and JSAT Corp. At present they hold 36.5 percent and 33.5 percent of the company respectively. Its Mega Wave service began in September 1998. NTT-SC’s systems consist of a NOC and uplink facility located at Shinagawa, Tokyo. There are two large uplink antennas for Jcsat 6 and 5.5 meters for Nstar A, on the roof of the NTT Shinagawa Building.

      Currently NTT-SC offers two kinds of services, Mega Wave Pro-V and Mega Wave Pro-IP. V stands for MPEG-2 quality Video and IP of course is Internet Protocol. Mega Wave Pro-IP services are intended for the multi-PC LAN-based environment. NTT-SC says more than 30 corporations are using their services. In addition to these two services the company started its third service called Mega Wave Select this past June. It is still in its experimental stage and the service is presently free-of-charge. Mega Wave Select is an IP multicast service and can be used by either Streaming Mode or Pre-reservation Mode. Mega Wave Select beams up such content as entertainment, shopping, news, and music to the Jcsat 6 satellite and then broadcasts it simultaneously to Internet users. The user is requested to install a SkyPerfecTV dual beam receiving antenna (for Jcsat 3 at 128 degrees E and Jcsat 6 at 124 degrees E) and the particular receiver for Mega Wave Select. The target date for commercial service is April 1, 2001.


      DDI Corp. (KDDI) is another Type 1 Telecommunications carrier in Japan and its Wireless Business Promotion Department initiated Skycast Service on October 15, 1999. Like SCC, KDDI uses Ku-band capacity on Superbird 1 and 4. The KDDI system targets Intranet and Extranet for large corporations for its Skycast market. The Skycast platform is operated in a full two-way satellite environment and provides a fast, reliable, and efficient transport solution for Internet content delivery.

      The system consists of a primary hub station located at KDDI’s Otemachi building in Tokyo, a Superbird 4 Ku-band transponder and VSATs installed at customer premises. To maintain the highest reliability, KDDI adopted site diversity in their network operation. A back-up hub station and uplink facility was built on the southern island of Okinawa. The antenna diameter of Tokyo hub station is 5.5 meters and the one for the Okinawa back-up station is 4.5 meters. Skycast hub stations are connected with the customer’s host server by dedicated circuits. A terrestrial connection to the DION ISP is also available.

      KDDI’s Skycast system uses VSAT antennas that are 75 centimeters in diameter. The two-way platform of Skycast is deployed with the maximum of a 150 kbps request channel and 2 Mbps return channel. KDDI fully utilizes the proven VSAT technology of Gilat in Israel. The unique feature of its system is hub satellite and hub packet protocols. Skycast is still in the early marketing stage and everybody is watching to see how it will take hold in the Japanese marketplace.


      Lastly, school Internet projects have started in Japan. SCC’s DirectPC and NTT-SC’s Mega Wave Pro are offering fast access to the edge of the school Internet with satellites. At the end of July 2000, SCC connected 201 schools and NTT-SC 186 schools. The Central NOC is located at Mitaka in Tokyo and it is connected with SCC’s Ibaraki NOC and NTT-SC’s Shinagawa NOC. In September 2000 the school Internet projects entered into their second phase, and an additional 248 schools installed two-way VSATs.

      Out of these 248 schools, 123 are connected to SCC and 125 to NTT-SC. They are enjoying 128 kbps interactive service via satellite. KDDI also started their experimental School Cast Service from July 1, 2000. The objective of School Cast is to deploy two-way IP satellite connectivity to schools located in remote areas of Japan. Uplink transmission speed from VSATs is 100 kbps and downlink is available at 250 kbps. KDDI has not yet announced when it will switch to commercial service.

      The next several years will bring a rapid progression in deployment of satellite-delivered broadband services in Japan. Keeping up with the very dynamic changes in digital broadcasting and television-Internet convergence, and providing the most flexible and cost-effective delivery services will be the keys to their success. All players must continually re-examine the requirements of increased Internet and multimedia usage in order to play successful roles in the expansion of future businesses in Japan.

      Naoakira Kamiya is an Executive Consultant with Alkadia Associates Co. Ltd. in Tokyo, Japan.

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