Archive for August, 2007

Netcom Africa

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Telecommunications has always been a struggle in Nigeria. Outside of Abuja, the nation’s young capital, Nigeria’s infrastructure is "unpredictable," at best. Nigeria’s power supply is insufficient, forcing many hotels, businesses, and homes to own multiple generators. Within this context, it is no surprise that, like many other third world countries, Nigeria’s telecommunications is largely confined to mobile phone networks (1.25 million landline phones versus over 30 million mobile subscribers).

Nigeria’s infrastructure challenges are equally daunting in expanding Internet service throughout the country. Yet, a number of ISP’s are entering this rapidly growing market.

One company, Netcom Africa Ltd, is making especially noticable strides. First it raked in two big awards:

Netcom Africa has emerged as a winner of the ‘Best ISP of the year’ and also won the recognition award for ‘Best Broadband Company of the Year’ at the annual Nigeria Telecom Awards organised by Nigeria Telecom Magazine in Lagos.

Other Internet Service Providers nominated for best ISP of the year award included Swift Networks and Direct on PC.

The Nigeria Telecoms Award recognises leadership, innovation and excellence in services. "We are delighted to be recognised by the industry and receive not one, but two additional prestigious awards this year," stated Lolade Shonubi, Netcom’s marketing manager.

She continues: "As an IP communications provider of satellite and wireless products, Netcom is determined to continue to lead the market with innovative solutions that meet the challenging criteria of our customers, the public and judges."

And now Netcom has acquired one of its main rivals:

Netcom Africa has acquired rival ISP Accelon Africa for an undisclosed price. South Africa’s Dimension Data also made a bid to buy Accelon but was beaten to the punch by Chinese-backed Netcom, which offers satellite broadband services in Nigeria under the MyNetcom banner. Accelon, set up by South African investors in 2002, has operations in Nigeria and Ghana.


Satcom Success at WildBlue

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

"Dude, I can’t handle dial-up anymore," is probably what people without broadband are saying. I know I can’t. For me, it’s either broadband or nothing at all.

And the number of broadband subscribers keeps growing. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development), the U.S. has the most households with broadband, but doesn’t rank in the top 10 in terms of penetration:



Seems the battle is being waged between cable and DSL providers. But what about people who are rural or ex-urban? Yes, WiMAX is building a following, notably via Clearwire. But satcom remains a viable option, with Hughes (HughesNet) and Spacenet (Starband) grabbing the early lead in providing national service. Now here comes WildBlue. Since launching their own spot-beam Ka-band satellite, they’ve been booking 1,000 and 1,500 new subscribers every week.



They’ve been so successful, in fact, that they’ve been turning away business in some coverage areas. Check this out, via

Satellite broadband provider WildBlue Communications is suspending sales across several beams due to capacity constraints. In a letter written to dealers this week, the company said it would begin to halt sales on three spot beams beginning Sept. 1.

According to the WildBlue’s Beam Sales Suspension Notice, sales of the company’s satellite broadband product have continued at a "record-breaking pace" since the launch of its new satellite, WildBlue-1. As a result, the company said, WildBlue is experiencing new capacity constraints in certain areas of the U.S.

The beams in question are 131, 132 and 133, which, the company said, are 85 percent full. "Because of this overwhelming demand for WildBlue broadband service, and in order to maintain maximum performance for all of our customers, we are unfortunately left with no choice but to begin our first WildBlue-1 beam suspensions," the company said. The beams in question cover much of eastern Texas and the majority of both Louisiana and Alabama.

WildBlue told its dealers that beginning Sept. 1 the company will suspend all marketing and will not take any new orders in these particular beams. The company also said it has prioritized the portion of the country served by these beams for the next software and hardware upgrades, and it would notify dealers in advance of any additional capacity as it becomes available.

"In an effort to continue to provide the highest quality service for all of our valued WildBlue customers, we carefully monitor and manage the capacity on each of our spot beams throughout the country," the company told SkyREPORT. "As a normal course of business we may from time to time decide to suspend new sales in certain areas of the country, again, so that we can maintain the high quality service that our customers have come to expect from WildBlue."




Wow. Even before the launch, I heard they were selling out some capacity on Anik-F2 over the Ohio River Valley. Now new capacity is being sold out. Good for WildBlue, I say.

In UK, 3 Launches Highspeed Mobile Broadband

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

I’ve been a big fan of my Verizon National Broadband Access plan since I picked it up back in February. For a little over $60 per month (with taxes), I’m able to connect my laptop to the Internet no matter where I am. No hunting for Wifi, no searching futilely for a nearby Starbucks, no dropping an extra $10 in a $300 hotel room just to check my email. If I’m in a reasonably civilized location (which is not always the case, to be sure), then it’s just a matter of opening the laptop and connecting at speeds between 400 and 700 kbs.

But if I lived in the UK, I’d be mighty tempted to switch to 3’s new Mobile Broadband service, which is offering speeds up to an astounding 2.8 mbs

3 has launched its new Mobile Broadband service, offering HSDPA speeds of up to 2.8Mbps on the go for laptop users, via a USB modem. It’ll use 3’s new ‘Turbo’ network that starts rolling out nationally from 4th September.

There’s three pricing options. Broadband Lite costs £10 a month with a 1GB allowance. Broadband Plus is £15 a month with a 3GB allowance, while Broadband Max is £25 a month with a 7GB allowance. In all cases, if you go over your data limit, you start paying 10p per megabyte. The modem is £0-£99 depending what tariff and how long you sign up for.

Meanwhile, back in Japan — where life is apparently even better — DoCoMo is looking at 300 Mbps with their "Super 3G" service:

 NTT DoCoMo, Inc. announced today that this month it began testing an experimental Super 3G system for mobile communications. With this experiment, DoCoMo will seek to achieve a downlink transmission rate of 300Mbps over a high-speed wireless network.

Super 3G features low-latency data transmission and improved spectrum efficiency. It is a highly advanced version of High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), which have been evolved from W-CDMA packet transmission technologies standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). The 3GPP, a telecommunications standards organization, is currently discussing standardization of Super 3G under the name Long Term Evolution (LTE).

DoCoMo will begin with an indoor experiment to test transmission speed using one transmitting and one receiving antenna. The company will then expand the experiment to examine downlink transmission by employing up to four Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antennas for both the base station (transmission side) and mobile station (receiving side); the goal is to achieve a downlink transmission speed of 300Mbps.

Wireless Watch Japan has some video of the DoCoMo phones. But there are, of course, satcom options to compete with faster mobile telecom offerings — such as the GLOBETrekker from Norsat or BGAN from Inmarsat — with the added benefit that you don’t necessarily have to be anywhere near someplace civilized to use them.

Whether via mobile telecom or satcom, however, one thing is clear — the race for mobile internet market share is at least partly a race for connection speed. 

Googling the Universe

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Without a doubt, Google Earth has put the functional utility of satellite imaging at the fingertips of millions, rekindling for many the shear wonder of what satellites can do to improve our lives.

Now Google’s virtual "satellites" (which aren’t really satellites, of course, but rather "the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D") are doing what no single satellite has yet been designed to do: they’re turning their gaze from the Earth to the Heavens with today’s release of Google Sky:


With Sky, users can now float through the skies via Google Earth. This easy-to-use tool enables all Earth users to view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. High resolution imagery and informative overlays create a unique playground for visualizing and learning about space.

To access Sky, users need only click "Switch to Sky" from the "view" drop-down menu in Google Earth, or click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar. The interface and navigation are similar to that of standard Google Earth steering, including dragging, zooming, search, "My Places," and layer selection….

"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available. Anyone interested in exploring the wonders of our universe can quickly see where the stunning objects photographed by Hubble actually dwell in the heavens. Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone’s home computer," said Dr. Carol Christian of STScI, who co-led the organization’s Sky team with Dr. Alberto Conti.

Google Sky features seven layers, including Hubble Space Telescope Imagery, Constellations, the Moon and Planets, a "Users Guide to Galaxies" and a "Life of a Star" layer, as well "The Backyard Astronomer," which "is useful for the amateur astronomer who may benefit from a comprehensive, organized way to reference fragments of the night sky."

"The Sky imagery was stitched together from more than one million photographs from scientific and academic sources, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology and the NASA-financed Hubble," according to the New York Times.

The BBC also has some good video of the new release. 

To get Google Sky, simply download the latest version of Google Earth.

Voyager, 30 Years On… and On…

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Billions of miles away from earth, way past the edge of our solar system, Voyager 1 is quietly (we assume) celebrating its pearl anniversary this week. reminds us of the two Voyagers’ origins: 

Voyager 2 launched on Aug. 20, 1977, and Voyager 1 launched on Sept. 5, 1977. Both spacecraft continue to return information from distances more than three times farther away than Pluto, where the sun’s outer heliosphere meets the boundary of interstellar space…

Voyager 1 currently is the farthest human-made object at a distance from the sun of about 9.7 billion miles (15.6 billion kilometers). Voyager 2 is about 7.8 billion miles (12.6 billion kilometers).

Originally designed as a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn, the Voyager tours were extended because of their successful achievements and a rare planetary alignment. The two-planet mission eventually became a four-planet grand tour. After completing that extended mission, the two spacecraft began the task of exploring the outer heliosphere.

During their first dozen years of flight, the spacecraft explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their moons. These planets were previously unknown worlds. The Voyagers returned never-before-seen images and scientific data and helped make fundamental discoveries about the outer planets and their moons.

The spacecraft revealed Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, which includes dozens of interacting hurricane-like storm systems, and erupting volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io. They also showed waves and fine structure in Saturn’s icy rings from the tugs of nearby moons.

The NASA Voyager site also contains some amazing facts about the spacecraft, their navigation and observation technologies, and the scientific discoveries that they have made possible.

30 years is a long time, to be sure — but we should enjoy many more anniversaries to come: 

 Barring any serious spacecraft subsystem failures, the Voyagers may survive until the early twenty-first century (~ 2020), when diminishing power and hydrazine levels will prevent further operation. Were it not for these dwindling consumables and the possibility of losing lock on the faint Sun, our tracking antennas could continue to "talk" with the Voyagers for another century or two!



Monday, August 20th, 2007

Satellite VoIP

Monday, August 20th, 2007

In remote areas with no reliable wired telephone services, deploying a voice over internet protocol system over satellite may be the best voice option. This can be problematic, however, mainly because of satellite latency:

Latency is the term that describes the time it takes to get a packet to its destination. It is usually expressed in milliseconds, or ms. Since the satellites are located 23,000 miles above the equator, and satellite signals travel at the speed of light, this journey takes approximately 540 ms. You then add on the latency of the various Internet hops and servers plus the VoIP provider’s network to end with a total latency in the range of 650 ms to 700ms or more depending on the state of the Internet itself. Another contributing factor could be the quality of your satellite signal which may cause packets to be resent. This latency is heard as a delay between the sender and the receiving ear. Users of VoIP over satellite need to learn how to communicate with this inherent latency much like the older press-to-talk radio phones. Further, the delay requires the users to be patient and refrain from interrupting the caller.

This excerpt comes from an informative white paper produced by Galaxy Broadband (below).

The recently released, DTECH WHISPER V0IP System hopes to solve some of these latency issues:

The integration of the WHISPER system with the iDirect line of satellite hubs and remotes can provide end users with up to a 600 percent increase in V0IP call capacity over a single remote iDirect satellite link. The system can also reduce the amount of bandwidth required to support standard V0IP traffic by more than 30 percent.

With its reliance on large numbers of small, delay sensitive packets, V0IP traffic can quickly stress the resources of a remote satellite link. The WHISPER V0IP System, based on DTECH’s small-footprint, high-performance integrated hardware platform, is powered by VX Software from Network Equipment Technologies to deliver greater network efficiency through packet consolidation, header compression, and call consolidation.

This feature set reduces the number of packets and overhead required to support a V0IP call. A 1.5 Mbps iDirect satellite link can support more than 150 simultaneous V0IP calls, while a 3 Mbps remote link can support more than 250 simultaneous V0IP calls. The combined increase in calls per packet with the reduced bandwidth required allows network operators to utilize the same space segment they currently lease to provide a more robust voice network and greater capacity for data traffic.

India – manned space flight?

Monday, August 20th, 2007

A months ago, we discussed Ukraine’s new space program — including its plan to independently launch three new satellites. While we are not seeing a new space race, the list of minor players (beyond the usual U.S.-Russian dominance) is expanding rapidly. The European Space Agency is implementing a number of new programs, from the Galileo positioning system, to the Herschel Space Observatory, to the ExoMars mission.

Now, India plans to join only the U.S., Russia, and China in sending humans into Orbit. Russian news-agency, ITAR-TASS explains:

India will invest within the coming five years some 1.5 billion U.S. dollars in the development of a set of technologies to carry out a manned space flight by 2015. Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) ManhaVan Nair said that most of the designing, research and technical jobs would be completed already within the current five-year period – up to 2012.

According to the ISRO-endorsed project, an autonomous orbital reusable space apparatus is to be developed to carry out the first such Indian mission. It is to be launched by means of an Indian-made GSI.V rocket. Nair admitted in his interview, published here on Monday, that Indian experts were yet lacking the necessary experience to build vehicles guaranteeing human safety on board. It is also necessary to increase the dependability of the booster rocket, which was earlier develop to place heavy satellites on a geosynchronic orbit.

ISRO is hatching some other ambitious plans, too. "The leading global space powers have already announced their preparations to set up manned bases on the Moon in 2020," Nair noted. "We believe India should not lag behind them," he added.

The "Chandrayan-1" project, envisaging the launching of an unmanned space vehicle to explore the Earth’s satellite, will be the first step "towards the moon" approximately a year later, stipulated by the Indian space program. The exploration vehicle with a net weight of 560 kilograms is to be lifted by a PSI.V booster from the national launching ground on Shriharikota Island, which is off the coast of the southern state of Andhra-Pradesh. Placed on a round-the-moon, it will take photographs of its surface. The experiment is expected to last about two years. It was earlier reported that the Russian Roskosmos Agency, as well as NASA and the European Space Agency, were invited to take part in the preparation of the Chandrayan-1 project. According to ISRO sources, the preparatory work is proceeding according to schedule. Several of the Chandrayan-1 components are already being tested.

GE’s Hospital Communications Platform

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Earlier this year, GE launched its CARESCAPE portfolio, "an integrated suite of patient monitoring devices, communications networks and IT systems designed to transform traditional patient monitoring data into clinical intelligence." GE argues this platform gives providers an integrated suite of technology and communications devices to increase patient care.

As GE explains in its announcement earlier this week, there was a potential problem :

Historically, the use of mobile phones in hospitals has been limited due to unreliable wireless support and the risk of interference between wireless phones and medical equipment.

The solution: partner with Sprint to deliver a seamless, integrated in-hospital communications network:

The new in-building cellular communications network from GE Healthcare and Sprint’s Custom Network Solution (CNS) team leverages GE’s CARESCAPE™ Enterprise Access™, a single, universal wireless platform powered by MobileAccess, and includes Sprint handsets. This solution will provide hospitals with a comprehensive platform for voice and data communications over secure cellular, Wi-Fi and telemetry infrastructure that requires only one installation. Using the combined offering, clinicians, patients and hospital visitors can communicate more efficiently and with ease.

“Sprint CNS provides scalable coverage and a high-capacity platform for wireless voice and data services on the Sprint National Network and Nextel National Network, enhancing the mobility and productivity of staff at hospitals and other businesses,” says Darlene Braunschweig, vice president of CNS at Sprint. “We are very excited to partner with GE Healthcare to provide differentiated and innovative mobile solutions that are critical for every business. This new solution facilitates constant communication of secure information amongst hospital staff; an aspect very critical to patient care.”

This is another layer in GE’s hospital communications drive. GE, in partnership with NBC and AMERICOM, has been offering the Patient Channel to subscribing hospitals, delivering medical and patient care programming for years. Now, GE, in partnership with, has launched the Newborn Channel.

DIY Friday: Satellite Gazebo

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Have an old, extra satellite dish? We’ve put them to good use in the past, consructing a wifi directional antenna and, better yet, a solar cooker. But where are you going to point the antenna and enjoy the BBQ (if that’s what you call a solar-baked entree)?

How about a satellite gazebo? These DIY’ers converted a vintage satellite dish (or a "BUD," big-ugly-dish, as they described it) into a surprisingly attractive gazebo.

The plan: Remove the satellite base, dig 2ft holes for six (or four or eight) 4×4 uprights, secure with concrete, mount dish with nails and wire, then nail lattice sides. The result:

Not bad. Not bad, at all.