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Anything New Up There?
by Mark Sedenquist

In the last few days, I have received numerous queries about  "new" satellite services, (DirecPC and Gilat-to-Home) which are supposed to start delivering two-way Internet access within a few weeks.  Since identifying a communication  system that can deliver the means for Dashboarders to connect to the Internet at a reasonable cost and speed from anywhere is the primary focus of the Road Wirer columns, here is my take on this "news." 

Many wireless communications offerings already exist for business enterprises that maintain fixed business locations and are endeavoring to use wireless devices and services to connect their employees in the field.  But a growing number of entrepreneurs are looking for methods and services that will allow them to cut the cord with the land-based infrastructures.  Journalists, writers, editors, photographers, medical transcriptionists, software designers, consultants, analysts and sales persons represent just a few occupations held by people who pose questions about wireless options to us on a weekly basis.  The focus of the Road Wirer commentary is therefore directed toward finding solutions for individual users and not towards those companies that can afford to create and implement their own proprietary wireless systems.

First of all, as of this date there are only a couple of two-way satellite options available for individual mortals.  Both of these, Tachyon and the various Immarsat options, utilize geosynchronous satellites, and neither of them pass the Road Wirer criteria because they either exceed the standard for reasonable cost or they can not be used in mobile settings.  Neither the Hughes Network "DirecPC"  or the Dish Network's Gilat to Home are operational and therefore remain in vapor-ware status for the time being.

 There are a couple of Web sites that provide excellent information about satellite issues and systems.  The first is the glossary of satellite terms that Satellite News On-Line has produced.  Lloyd Wood is an English researcher who has created a remarkable database of information and links about current wireless options. On my last visit to his Web site, I found interesting tidbits like the fact that the Bill Gates' Teledesic "Internet in the Sky" project public launch has rolled into the future to at least 2004.  Plus there is an excellent discussion about latency (time-delay) issues and GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) systems.

In the "far-out" category, I would suggest looking at the latest from the Sky Station "Balloon", the under-sea network FLAG (FiberOptic Link Around the World), and the high-altitude aircraft options as alternative methods to conduct wireless access to the web. 

Getting back to Dashboarder reality-- there is only one two-way satellite system that I know from personal experience actually works.  It is not the definitive Dashboarder solution because the data transfer speed is slower than we prefer, but the Road Wirer field trials conducted a few weeks ago proved that the Global Star  system provided us access to the Web in remote (non-cellular) areas of Death Valley National Park.  Next week: results of our GlobalStar field trials and discussion with the founder of

Mark Sedenquist
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 14, 2000