StarBand

StarBand is a broadband Internet service provider (ISP) that uses geostationary satellites to provide always-on connection independent of other media.

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StarBand is a broadband Internet service provider (ISP) that uses geostationary satellites to provide always-on connection independent of other media. Established in late 2000, StarBand was the first widely-available service for the general public that made use of satellite links for both upstream and downstream data.

StarBand connection requires a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port or an Ethernet card, a special modem, a dish antenna measuring approximately 2 feet high by 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep, and two coaxial cables that run between the dish and the modem. Professional installation is recommended. Upstream data speeds, at the time of writing, were reported by users as 30 to 100 kilobits per second (Kbps), with 50 Kbps being typical. Downstream data speeds depend on the Web site visited, the complexity of downloaded pages, and the time of day. Normal downloads range from 150 Kbps to 500 Kbps.

Because StarBand uses a satellite for both the upstream and the downstream links, the latency is considerable. A geostationary satellite orbits 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator. For a user at a temperate latitude, signals must make four trips through space, each of approximately 23,000 miles, between a mouse click and the appearance of Web site data on the display. This introduces a delay of 0.5 second, because the speed of electromagnetic (EM) radiation is finite. But that is the mathematical minimum. In reality, the latency is usually longer. The upstream data must travel from the user's dish to the satellite, and then back down to the StarBand hub, where it is transmitted over land-based media. The downstream data must travel from the Web site under observation to the StarBand hub over land-based media, then up to the satellite, and back down to the user. The result is latency that sometimes exceeds 1 second. This is not a system defect, but technical reality.

StarBand is not recommended for highly interactive applications such as gaming. But for people in remote regions with no other option, StarBand can provide good broadband Internet service. The author of this definition has had the service since March of 2001, and it has proven invaluable. The only alternative is dial-up through antiquated telephone lines, resulting in real-world browsing speeds averaging 10 Kbps or somewhat higher. StarBand cannot compete with a well-installed DSL or cable modem connection, but it has provided the author with a browsing speed increase of over 1,000 percent, even taking latency into account.

This was first published in September 2005

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