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StarBand Embraces Mac Users, Offers More Bandwidth

By | August 11, 2003

      StarBand Communications is hoping to improve satellite broadband’s customer experience with the launch of its new StarBand 480 Pro satellite modem. StarBand is the broadband partnership of satellite TV company EchoStar Communications [Nasdaq: DISH], Gilat Satellite Networks [Nasdaq: GILTF] and Microsoft [Nasdaq: MSFT].

      While satellite has often been seen as a last-resort option for users who couldn’t get any other broadband connection, the 480 Pro is StarBand’s latest move to improve the customer experience and provide more flexibility for users.

      Rolled out nationally after highly successful customer trials earlier this year, the 480 Pro hardware comes with its own pricing plans that will be offered alongside the current 360 modem and its pricing.

      One advantage the new modem offers StarBand is the ability to take on customers who don’t use Windows. The 360 service still supports Windows only. The reason is that the 360 is essentially a dumb modem that relies on software on the user’s PC. Since the software was only available for Windows, that left Mac users and others out in the cold.

      With the 480 Pro, said Howard Lossing, vice president of sales at StarBand, “we made the step of moving the intelligence off the PC and into the modem itself by improving the firmware.” Thus, any machine that speaks Ethernet should be able to connect via the new modem. This makes Mac users potential customers, which can’t hurt.

      Another advance is upload enhancement called “turbo mode.” According to Lossing, the technology, “allows us to assess and predict if a customer’s needs for an upload circuit are going to be quite large.” It looks at how much data is being sent, along with things like the user’s protocol — “if they’re using ftp, generally you can imagine it’s going to be a larger file,” said Lossing — and temporarily routes users into a reserved portion of the network that reduces traffic congestion. Turbo mode offers upload speeds of 100 Kbps.

      None of this comes cheap, of course. Residential customers currently pay $500 for the 360 modem, and a base rate of $69.99 a month. Service contracts and an installment payment option for the modem can tinker with those rates.

      For that, they get download speeds of up to 500 Kbps. Small office users can get up to 1 Mbps for considerably more: $120 for a three-seat office and $160 for a five-seat office, assuming they prepay their year contract.

      The 480 Pro costs $900 up front (or $600 with a two-year contract) and has a base monthly rate of $149 a month. Again, contract incentives can change that, albeit not by much.

      For small offices, the 480 Pro looks like an incremental upgrade. Business customers pay $800 or $500 for the 360 modem, depending on contract length. But its monthly pricing is in the same range as 360 office plans, and it offers the same speed. Benefits include easier networking and getting rid of the proprietary software.

      For residential users, 480 Pro service is effectively a high-tier option alongside the 360 plans. For these users, the 480 offers double the bandwidth for double the monthly rate.

      Given the pricing, it’s hard to see the 480 Pro suddenly turning StarBand into a runaway hit with users. People paying that much for broadband service are doing so because they need to, and those who don’t need to, won’t. But for customers who are in that market anyway, the 480 Pro could make living day to day with satellite broadband service that much easier.

      –John M. Sullivan

      (Howard Lossing, StarBand, 703/287-3000)

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