Archive for September, 2006


Friday, September 22nd, 2006

From Skyreport 

TELCO-TV — One year ago today, Verizon launched its fiber-optic FiOS TV service in Keller, Texas. Since that time, the telco’s TV product serves more than 80 communities in the Lone Star state with additional territories in California, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York. The company said it expects to begin service in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey within the coming months – and in Fort Wayne, Ind. next year.


Rescuing Inflight Broadband

Thursday, September 21st, 2006


According to Shephard Group’s Inflight-Online, Panasonic Avionics wants to offer the same inflight broadband service being shut down by Connexion by Boeing:

JUST when the Inmarsat community was relishing the prospect of an unobstructed run at the passenger broadband market, Panasonic has announced a plan to take up where Connexion by Boeing left off. The IFE giant has no intention of rushing in, though, and will not launch unless it has commitments covering a critical mass of aircraft. 

“We have a complete system designed, developed and ready to go,” strategic marketing director David Bruner told Inflight Online at the WAEA show in Miami Beach last week. “But we’re determined to avoid one of the things that brought Connexion down – lack of an initial fleet big enough to assure acceptable pricing for the airlines.”

Panasonic has set about securing agreements covering a minimum of 500 aircraft in the next 60 days. That schedule is being driven by the need to be ready to serve ex-Connexion airlines within a tolerable time after the discontinuation of that service by the end of the year. “We can’t drag our launch decision on until, say, February,” Bruner said. “There will inevitably be a dark period between the end of Connexion and the start of our service, and we want to keep that as short as possible. We already have 150 aircraft committed and feel confident we’ll make the 500. But if we’re falling badly short in 60 days’ time we will not go.”

Early takers would enjoy significant advantages over airlines that were slower of the mark, Bruner said. “In return for a minimum five-year commitment we’ll reward our launch customers with very preferential service pricing, and they will also get priority access to bandwidth.”

Panasonic’s standard wholesale price to the airlines would represent a comparatively small premium on terrestrial broadband access tariffs, Bruner said. “So far we are seeing little indication that the airlines are planning to mark this up for passengers. It’s a service they want to offer – they don’t currently see it as a revenue-generator.”

The new offering is designed to be as attractive as possible to airlines that are already equipped for Connexion. “Our solution for them is to replace only the modem on the aircraft and leave all the rest of the hardware, including the antenna, in place,” said Bruner. “That will spare them the expense of reversing the Connexion installations and then putting in our definitive equipment suite.”

That includes a compact Ku-band antenna from Californian-based L-3 Datron Advanced Technologies. Another L-3 Communications operation, the Linkabit division, is supplying the modem. Both are already fully developed for US military applications and have been modified for civil use by removing the encryption provision. Working with an existing Ku-band satellite system, the hardware is capable of delivering 12Mbit/sec to the aircraft and 3Mbit/sec in the opposite direction, according to Bruner.

Panasonic has selected a single Ku-band satellite operator to provide transponder capacity and geographical coverage at least equivalent to Connexion’s. “With an initial fleet of 500 aircraft we would anyway pay significantly less for transponders than Connexion,” Bruner pointed out. “But our technical solution will also be more efficient than theirs, allowing us to put more traffic through each transponder and thus reduce our total requirement for satellite capacity.”

Panasonic saw itself as a system designer and integrator and had no intention of incurring the costs associated with being a service provider, Bruner said. The as yet unidentified satellite operator would be responsible for system management, operation and capacity planning, and Panasonic is in talks with a global wireless roaming company for the provision of services such as customer care, billing and retail promotion. 

“We’re intent on learning from what happened to Connexion,” said Bruner. “9/11 lost them their start-up fleet, and after that they were always struggling to catch up. Our onboard equipment is lighter and cheaper, and our approach to buying transponder capacity is altogether more economical. We think these advantages will persuade the airlines and that in a couple of months’ time we’ll be ready to go ahead.”

Should the magic 500 not be achieved, however, Panasonic will continue to look for another way into connectivity. “If Ku-band proves not to make sense after all, then we’ll go down another path,” Bruner concluded.

At least one other passenger communications provider will be watching developments carefully. AeroMobile is currently to committed to L-band operator Inmarsat as the bearer system for its soon to be introduced onboard cellphone offering. But it is also looking to offer email and Internet/VPN access in the longer term, and would be open to integration with the Panasonic Ku-band system in the same way its new GSM/GPRS cellular offering is being integrated with the company’s onboard IFE infrastructure.

“We’re completely agnostic when it comes to air-to-ground data pipes,” commented AeroMobile strategic relationships and marketing director David Coiley. “In the end we could find ourselves working with Inmarsat, Panasonic and even the AirCell terrestrial broadband system in North America.”


Although some still have doubts, Australian airline Qantas is moving forward with their test.

Walkie Talkie via IP

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

We’ve written before about the nexus between IPTV and satellite communications technology, including SES Americom’s IP-PRIME (which recently signed up more than 120 channels through transport agreements with leading television programmers and networks) — but what about IP Radio?

Companies like Barix (whose consumer products can be viewed here) utilize IP radio and satellite technology for IP connections as a backup against studio power outages, as Radio World reports:

Barix AG said Clear Channel Satellite Services is using its products for point-to-multipoint IP connectivity from Englewood, Colo., to Clear Channel radio towers in the southeastern United States….

The system was launched in June in advance of the hurricane season and connects stations in the Gulf region. Stations there “now can remain on the air in the event that studios go dark in extreme weather or other disaster conditions, allowing stations to broadcast important information to local populations in emergency situations,” the supplier stated.

Englewood streams audio to towers sites in preparation for broadcast should studios experience power outages. Barionets at those sites are used to activate and switch the Exstreamer backup audio feed for transmission over the air. The latter devices are controlled from Englewood via the IP connection established over the satellite.

Stations in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas are connected; the broadcast group hopes to expand the system to around 900 towers over the next year.

Such systems provide important redundancy to over-the-air broadcasts, but radio (eh, Marconi?) is not just about broadcasting from one to many — it’s about multi-point, multi-way communications, as well.

Which, when you think about it, is exactly the model upon which internet protocol is designed. So why aren’t we seeing more IP Walkie Talkies?

Well, we may soon. Cisco last fall announced technology and a new business unit "focused on integrating two-way radio, cellular, VoIP and other communications methods into an IP backbone:"

 The IP Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS) consists of existing Cisco products and new server software that Cisco says will let public safety organizations and companies IP-enable two-way radio voice traffic and integrate disparate radio infrastructures with other public safety or private organizations.

While initially focused on public safety and government users – patching together systems of separate police, fire and governmental organizations, for example – Cisco says the IPICS platform will appeal to a broad range of public and private enterprise customers because the system also is capable of integrating disparate data and video signals with an IP infrastructure.

"[IPICS] is not a communications system in itself; it’s something that enables disparate communication systems out there to work together in an IP format," says Brad Curran, an industry analyst with Frost and Sullivan who tracks government and military communications technology industries.

Cisco Systems president and Chairman  John Chambers recently gave the keynote address (more info here) and a demonstration of IPICS at the Security Standard Conference in Boston:

IPICS focuses on voice interoperability across multiple networks, and provides services for user management, policy creation, and integration of diverse PTT devices. But Chambers said its underlying architecture would enable IPICS to extend beyond voice to provide complete information-based interoperability and collaboration, with the contextual integration of voice, video, and data resources.

The potential for a company as large as Cisco to transform IP Radio and push past the barriers of interoperability should not be underestimated. Indeed, it could be as transformative as radio itself.

Before radio, after all, instant communications across great distances relied upon point-to-point connections via the telegraph. Today’s networks similarly limit communications to those with devices capable of communicating on those networks. True interoperability — a result of the nexus between satcom, IP and radio — could literally change the way we communicate.

But then, as Rocket Scientists (cough, cough), we’ve always been excited by the potential of new technology. 

Ricochet Laser

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

The USAF Research Lab does some interesting work, and this one is certainly no exception: the Aerospace Relay Mirror System (ARMS). A unit of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems is working on the project and they had a very successful test last month:

The demonstration, conducted recently at U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory facilities at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., used a half-scale version of a strategic relay mirror payload that ultimately could be packaged and carried to high altitudes on airships, long-endurance aircraft or spacecraft. The payload could be used with airborne, ground-based or sea-based high-energy lasers to destroy ballistic missiles and other targets. Relay mirror systems will greatly enhance laser weapon system performance by reducing the atmosphere’s effects on laser beams and extending their range beyond line of sight.




Reminds me of an old Hanna-Barbera character called "Ricochet Rabbit," who would ping-ping-ping around the Old Southwest, where he was a sheriff — backed up by deputy Droop-a-long, who was not nearly as fast.

But this is the real deal, as described by last winter:

Lasers can only zap as far as the eye can see. The beams don’t curve, so ray guns can’t reach over the horizon. The Defense Department’s Office of Force Transformation wants to change that, however, with a world-wide ring of giant mirrors, that would bounce laser light to wherever the Pentagon saw fit.

This test advances their development, hopefully toward eventual adaptation to communications targets, as opposed to the other kind.

Intel Builds the World’s Most Remote Digital City in Amazon

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Intel, working in conjunction with Brazilian schools and companies, has brought easily accessible broadband to Parintins, an isolated city of 114,000 on an island in the Amazon Basin, CNET News reports.

A tower for WiMax, a long-range wireless technology, was set up on the island and connects two schools, a hospital, a community center and a university to a broadband network…. The new WiMax network could help eliminate some of the problems that come with living deep in Brazil’s interior. The hospital, for instance, will use the link for telemedicine and remote diagnostics. The city only has one hospital and 32 doctors. "Most likely, if you need a specialist you need to go to Manaus (a 15-hour boat ride away) or Sao Paolo," said Carreon. Intel estimates that the new network will serve about 1,500 students and 10,000 community members.

Computing News in Minsk provides additional details on Intel’s movement into Brazil:

Intel aims to extend wireless PC access to millions of citizens in Latin America and train more than a million teachers about the effective use of technology in the classroom. In Parintins, Intel has already trained 24 teachers through its education initiatives. The Intel Teach Program teaches teachers how to use technology to improve the way students learn. The Intel Learn Program provides job-readiness skills to underprivileged students between the ages of 10 and 18.


The Intel press release describes the deployment of WiMax in Parintins as part of a "global movement to bring technology to the next billion people." Video and an audio interview with Intel Chairman Craig Barrett is also available on the Intel site.

 Brazil isn’t the only emerging market entering the WiMax era: DataWeek reports that Saab Grintek is preparing a WiMax roll-out in South Africa. Given the ability of WiMax to "leapfrog" into areas with under-developed infrastructures, it may well be that WiMax will arrive in emerging markets long before it’s seen widely in European, North American and Asian markets.


Second Team Added to Rocket Racing League Roster

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Alan Boyle over at the CosmicLog reports that a second team has joined the Rocket Racing League, the relatively new association charged with organizing and promoting the emerging sport of rocket racing, and, thus may soon be ready for actual competition. Yesteraday, the Bridenstine Rocket Racing Team, which is named after its leader Navy Lt. James Bridenstine, announced that it would be challenging the world first (and, previously, only) rocket racing team, the Leading Edge.

RRL President and CEO Granger Whitelaw thinks that the new teams might have some natural competition.

"Given the air force credentials of our first team, Leading Edge, and the navy aviation experience of this second team under Jim Bridenstine, we expect a good-natured competition as the Rocket Racing League prepares for its official launch in late 2007."

So when can we expect the RRL to ramp up to full gear? While the official word (as we see above) is late 2007, some are saying it could be even earlier. Boyle reports that the Mark1 X-Racers that are going to be used in the competition are still in development, early, usable, and expensive (the final crafts will cost about $1.2 million) prototypes could be hitting the scene within the next four five months. Those looking for an even earlier preview might keep an eye on the X Prize Cup, where the league is planning to show some of their wares next month.

Rupert’s Birds For Sale?

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Here’s the source of the "turd birds" comment: CNBC’S Faber Report on Thursday, 14 September 2006. Here’s the transcript:

A controlling stake in satellite broadcast company DirecTV [Group Inc. (DTV)] is the subject of talks between News Corp. [NWS] and Liberty Media designed to allow News Corp. to buy back the $10 billion stake in the company Liberty currently controls.

The on-again, off-again talks have picked up significant momentum of late, according to people familiar with the situation. And the possibility of a tax-free exchange of News Corp.’s DirecTV stake for Liberty’s roughly $10 billion voting and non-voting stake in News Corp. is under consideration.

News Corp. is pushing the process along in hopes of resolving something prior to its Oct. 20 annual meeting at which it will hold a non-binding vote of its shareholders on whether it can extend its poison pill for two years.

News Corp. installed the pill in late 2004 after Liberty significantly increased its voting stake in the company to what is now roughly 19%. While the vote on the pill is non-binding, News Corp. would love to avoid the negative corporate governance implications if its shareholders advise against the pill, but it keeps it. Better to eliminate the threat from Liberty and its Chairman John Malone and therefore eliminate the pill.

The two sides have been talking for years, but the possibility of a deal has increased of late and both Peter Chernin, News Corp.’s president, and Greg Maffei, Liberty’s CEO, have sent positive signals about the talks to investors with whom they have been meeting at a Merrill Lynch media conference that is wrapping up today.

Liberty’s News Corp. stake, 188 million voting shares and 324 million non-voting, carries a taxable gain. Therefore, Liberty has been negotiating a swap with News Corp. Under current tax laws, a deal could be tax free if News Corp. sent Liberty an entity, 75% of which was made up of cash and 25% of an operating business. The tax-free treatment of the cash component begins declining next year to about 66% cash so Liberty may also have reason to move quickly.

Still, it is the possibility that the DirecTV stake could change hands which would have the most significance. Rupert Murdoch pursued DirecTV for years, but has lately soured somewhat on the asset, calling it a "turd bird."

He is distressed by the company’s lack of a robust broadband solution and building competition from Verizon [Communications Inc. (VZ)] and AT&T [Inc. (T)] on the video front. If he can get deals for Fox News and a potential business channel before jettisoning the stake, people familiar with his thinking tell me he would consider doing so.

An even swap of the News Corp. stake and the DirecTV stake would not be tax free and so News Corp. would need to include some sort of operating business known as an active trader that would allow it to be tax free. That is deemed as possible by people with knowledge of the talks.

Liberty officials declined comment and News Corp. officials have not returned calls. 

Chemical Leak Causes Scare on Space Station

Monday, September 18th, 2006

NASA declared an emergency on the International Space Station briefly this morning after technicians discovered that potassium hydroxide was leaking into living quarters. The leak of the odorless chemical was found after a smoke alarm went off while the crew was conducting some work on an Elektron oxygen-generating device and reported a "chemical smell."

Fortunately, the crew was never in any danger — at its worst potassium hydroxide can irritate the skin and eyes — and NASA reacted swiftly. Following the incident, the crew put on surgical masks and gloves and inserted a charcoal filter into the station’s ventilation system, which will supposedly clean the air and eliminate the odor.

Reportedly, Problems with the Elektron should have been expected given the track record of the device. Over the past few years the Elektro nhas been a source of a fair amount of trouble, requiring regular maintenance and troubleshooting. Still, its not known why the problem with the unit has popped up now. According to the New York Times[Registration Required], Michael T. Suffredini, NASA head of the ISS program, had said:

"he did not yet know why the crew had been working on the Elektron. ‘We’re trying to figure out why,’ he said. ‘This Elektron has been working very well.’"

For those who are curious, no word has gotten out on how the whole incident may or may not effect Anousheh Ansari’s historic journey to the station, although her blog has documented the take off that occurred much earlier this morning.

First Female Space Tourist Readies for Monday Launch

Friday, September 15th, 2006

American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari is set to become the world’s first female space tourist on Monday when she departs the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz rocket as part of Virginia-based Space Adventures plan to bring ordinary (if wealthy) tourists to the stars. 

The AP provides details: 

After months of preparation at Moscow’s Star City training centre and a payment of some 25 million dollars (20 million euros), Ansari is due to spend 10 days on board the ISS, fast becoming the world’s most exclusive resort.

After Ansari, Michael Lopez-Alegria of the United States and Mikhail Tyurin of Russia have adapted to weightlessness, the Soyuz TMA-9 capsule will dock at the ISS on Wednesday.

Ansari, a 40-year-old engineer who made her millions in the US telecoms sector, is planning to take pictures, shoot film and write an Internet travel blog during her stay. notes that Ansari is no stranger to space flight:

Ansari’s family made a multimillion-dollar contribution to back the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million suborbital competition for privately-developed, reusable spacecraft. A team led by veteran aerospace designer Burt Rutan and backed by millionaire Paul Allen won the contest in 2004 when their piloted SpaceShipOne vehicle launched into suborbital space twice in two weeks.

Together with her husband Hamid and brother-in-law Amir, Ansari also co-founded the Dallas-based company Prodea to develop the Explorer line of air-launched suborbital vehicles under a partnership with Space Adventures.

Explorer spaceport plans in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore are moving ahead in anticipation of the spacecraft’s development. also offers a great interview with Ansari.

We’ll have more coverage of the launch and, of course, Ansari’s blog, on Monday.

China to Launch New Communications Satellite in October

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

We wrote last month about the Chinese launch of their seed-breeding satellite.

Now the Chinese hope to breed lots of new channels for millions of people with the launch of its SinoSat 2 satellite at the end of October:

A Chinese Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B carrier rocket is scheduled to launch the SinoSat 2 (a.k.a. Xinnuo 2), satellite… from Launch Complex 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. According to Sun Laiyan, administrator of the China National Space Administration, the Xinnuo 2 large-capacity communications satellite, with an anti-jamming system, will provide direct television broadcasting services to the Chinese mainland, as well as Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. On Monday, August 4, the satellite left the production facility after receiving its final checks by the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence. Xinnuo 2 is based on the Dongfanghong 4 platform and has been designed to work with the ChinaSat 9 satellite in the same orbit, to provide communications services to the Chinese mainland. The ChinaSat 9 satellite is based on the Spacebus 4000 C1 platform and will be positioned at 92.2 degrees east. The Xinnuo 2 satellite, which has taken China six years to develop, is designed to have a lifespan of 15 years, and operated in geosynchronous orbit at 110.5 deg E. China has managed to launch 70 satellites since the 1970’s, of which, currently only 20 are still in service today.

China Daily has additonal information on how the Chinasat 9 and Sinosat 2 satellites will improve television coverage in local areas; the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union notes that the new satellite will provide up to 300 million mainland households with "access to cable-quality TV services that have so far been restricted to China’s more urban areas."

The launch of SinoSat 9 comes just in time a new cultural great leap forward in China, as January, 2007 will bring the introduction of a Chinese version of America’s Next Top Model to Chinese television.

(The photo above shows the areas of coverage for the new satellite.)