High speed internet has become a necessity, no matter where you are – be it away from large cities… or in a train. You can always stay online if your information superhighway goes through Space. Satellite Internet – a universal and efficient way to access the Web – is explained this week in “Space”.
For the thousands of commuters passing through Brussels or any other busy rail station, time spent working in the train means time saved in the office.
These new gadgets on the carriages are bringing the office even closer to the commute.
Yves Vieux-Pernon, On board services manager, Thalys International: ”On the roof of this train, under this white dome there is a satellite antenna. This antenna allows us to get Wi-Fi on board the train. The signal comes from the satellite to a server in one of the carriages and that server is then linked to the different Wi-Fi access points situated in each carriage.”
The whole network of high-speed Thalys trains, connecting Brussels to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne and Marseille, has been equipped with satellite Internet appliances. All passengers can now access the web on their laptops, tablet computers or cellphones.
Getting online is easy, though not very cheap: a one-hour access card will cost you 6,50 euros at the train bar. That buys five megabits per second – that’s fast enough to watch streaming video without any delays.
You can use the Internet, just like you can at home or in the office, on a train going at more than 300 kilometres an hour.
Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications: “You can surf the web, read your e-mails or send presentations that you need to present in Brussels to your colleagues there, and so on. It’s an extension of the office, inside the train. It’s possible thanks to relatively recent technology involving telecoms satellites which now complement very effectively terrestrial networks.”
This is how it works. When running in open space, the system connects to the internet via a satellite antenna mounted on the roof.
As the train moves, the antenna tracks the satellite 36,000 kms above, which communicates via the ground station to the Internet.
Onboard, the system communicates with the central server on the train.
It’s the electronic brain that controls parabolic antennas, manages wireless connections and switches to mobile networks if the satellite is unavailable – for example, in tunnels.
Yves Vieux-Pernon: ”All the information passes through the server here. The server is linked to a terrestrial control station which is manned at all times. There are people who follow how the WI-Fi system is working at all times on all our trains.”
Passenger trains are just one example of how satellites can provide high-speed internet connection in places where cable is not an option.
And that is also a challenge across the channel, deep in the Welsh countryside.
The Brecon Beacons National Park offers a warm welcome, but until very recently high speed internet was non-existent anywhere many villages.
Julie Bell, General Manager, The Felin Fach Griffin: ”We’re in that 0.02% of the population, as they say, that cannot get broadband, and our village – the whole village of Felin Fach cannot get broadband, we’re too far from the end of one of the telephone exchanges, and there is no plans by the British Telecom to put the wire any further.”
Simon Barrett, Head of Marketing, Avanti Communications: “The difficulty with reaching areas like here in Wales is actually not the cable, it’s the digging of the trenches to achieve that cable. That can be a 100 euros per meter done, so if you compare that to the upfront cost of maybe 400 euros to install the [satellite] terminal – we’re at the price of four meters of ducting.”
Before, Julie had to rely on a dial-up connection. E-mailing a photo was a time-consuming exercise, and some important commercial websites simply didn’t work. Satellite broadband has provided high-speed connection for the hotel and has also become a cornerstone of a future village-wide wireless network.
Julie Bell: ”Luckily, one of our villagers had heard of a satellite broadband company, and he approached them and they said that they will be willing to provide satellites for the village, but they did need to have a business onboard as well, so the village came to us and said, would you be interested in coming aboard? And that’s how we ended up having the satellite installed.”
And the set-up is no more complex than a satellite TV set.
Tim Mitchell, Product Engineer, Avanti Communications: “Here we have the satellite broadband equipment, which consists of satellite dish, the transceiver and the cabling which runs indoor to the satellite modem. And the satellite modem provides the same type of services that you typically expect from your standard ADSL or cable router.”
Unlike in the past, modern equipment establishes a bidirectional satellite connection.
Tim Mitchell: ”The dish sends and receives the satellite signal, and the signal goes up to the satellite on geostationary orbit, so the signal has to travel 36 thousand kilometers up to the satellite and back down to the ground station where the signal connects to the Internet. In the past, satellite broadband services used a dial-up path for the return, which means that upload speeds enabling users to do such things as video and teleworking contributions functioned very slowly. The updated satellite broadband services both send and receive, so it enables a high speed return path for digital contribution.”
The monthly fee for the satellite subscription is comparable to that for more traditional cable or ADSL lines, ensuring affordable broadband coverage however remote the location.
The first communication satellites were used for phone calls; television was the next step, and now satellites are providing a universal internet solution. It’s becoming more efficient with constant technological improvements and the planned launches of many new purpose-built satellites.
Magali Vaissiere: “I think that the focus in the future will be on increasing the bandwidth. Because we can never have enough means of communication, we always want a larger bandwidth. We’ve gone from a few hundred kilobits per second to now several megabits per second, even tens of megabits per second. And the satellite technology allows us to increase this capacity and in the last few months and years we’ve made tremendous progress.”