Sat-ND, 8.1.97

Sat-ND 97-01-08 - Satellite and Media News

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Sorry! Once again, Sat-ND was posted to newsgroups yesterday but not delivered to mailing list subscribers. Maybe I should ask Bill Gates why his software keeps behaving like this. Just for the record, I'll send yesterday's issue along with this one.

The launch of the first three IRIDIUM satellites aboard a Delta-II rocket was postponed yesterday after "a minor technical anomaly was detected in the satellite ground system software which interprets the telemetry files stored onboard each satellite. The error has been identified and the correction is being implemented and verified," McDonnell Douglas said in a statement.
The launch has been rescheduled for tomorrow, January 9. The launch window will open at 5:35 a.m. and close at 6:23 a.m. PST.

Arianespace chairman Charles Bigot has indicated that his company is willing to provide competitors with launch opportunities in Europe's launch centre at Kourou, French Guiana. While there are no concrete projects right now , "it's an avenue that Europe should be exploring." Bigot said that in addition to launching Soyuz rockets from a new launch pad at Kourou under the Starsem contract (Sat-ND, 17.12.96,) the site could be opened up to handle launch vehicles such as Ukraine's Tsiklon or McDonnell Douglas Corp's Delta.
Reportedly, McDonnell Douglas has held preliminary discussions with Arianespace about building a launch pad at Kourou. The company's Delta rockets are constrained by capacity limits at the two U.S. pads (Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base.) But the situation may have changed again following McDonnell's merger agreement with Boeing Co. (Sa-ND, 16.12.96.) Boeing is involved in the SeaLaunch venture (Sat-ND, 15.7.96) that uses Russian rockets to lift satellites into orbit from a converted oil rig.

Japan's NEC will establish an up-to-date data network for the Central Bank of Russia which will link its 1,000+ regional branches to an accounting centre in Moscow. 
The network is expected to become operational next autumn. It will initially use INMARSAT satellites but switch to an own low-earth orbiting satellite system called KUPON later (Sat-ND, 30.12.96.) 

The Thai government has announced plans to drastically cut spending in order to balance the budget for the next two years. The proposed spy satellite (Sat-ND, 5.1.97) is among the projects that will be halted or at least scaled back.

The regional TV station of the Qinghai province in Northwest China has taken up satellite TV broadcasts. (No, that's not Guangxi [Sat-ND, 2.1.97] -- that's in the Southwest.) News agency Xinhua did not elaborate on which satellite was used and instead just stated that the daily 12-hour broadcasts could also be received in Japan, Russia, the Middle East and Australia. 

It's not only a bad time for services like this one but even for companies. TV/COM International issued a press release yesterday, hailing its co-operation with Leo Kirch's digital venture DF1. It "successfully accomplished one of the most complex and far-reaching live digital video broadcasts ever, using equipment from TV/COM International, Inc., a subsidiary of Hyundai Electronics America."
Great! It all happened on October 13, 1996 by the way.

Echostar Communications Corp. announced a new digital set-top box that goes by the name of Echostar 5000. It will be available to the (U.S.) public in February at a suggested retail price of US$499. It offers the amazing and truly useful feature of displaying telephone caller-identification messages on-screen.

Hughes Information Technology Systems (HITS) signed a US$10 million contract with P.T. Telekommunikasi Indonesia to upgrade a satellite master control station. Under the contract HITS will upgrade the control station with new computers and operational software as well as providing a new baseband system, new antennas, RF equipment, modern communications system monitoring and in-orbit test equipment, training and support services.

A second digital TV package will be launched in Germany on February 15 when premier rolls out its meagre bouquet in a few test markets. The company said that the demand for digital decoders surpassed the available 30,000 "Mediabox" devices that will be handed out to premiere subscribers in exchange for their analogue decoders. 
Of course, those 55,000 subscribers which were interested in premiere's digital service are more than those 20,000 subscribers Leo Kirch's rivalling DF1 package has attracted so far. But the number is by no means sensational: premiere's subscriber base has recently passed the 1.4-million mark. In other words: just 4 percent of their customers applied for that digital decoder. How a service like that will perform once offered to the public remains to be seen.
premiere's digital service will not offer anything new unless you pay for it. There will be just one time-shifted version of its analogue output and, besides, four pay-per-view channels. 
In theory, the digital service is free of cost to current subscribers (apart from that pay per view, of course.) Nonetheless, premiere has the nerve to charge subscribers an additional monthly fee of DM20 (US$13) for the digital decoder.

In Europe, DirecPC is available via EUTELSAT, but so far the service is only offered to business customers. While Canada may have problems with the introduction of digital TV, Internet access via satellite is absolutely more advanced. Telesat Canada has reduced the price for DirecPC by 40 percent. The DirecPC Personal Edition system, including all necessary hardware and software, is now available at Can$595, down from Can$999. 
Telesat also introduces two new pricing plans for Internet access. The SunSurfer Plan allows unlimited DirecPC access from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and all day on weekends for Can$179.95 a month. The MoonSurfer Plan offers unlimited DirecPC access from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday to Friday and all day on weekends for Can$54.95 a month.

Besides from the fact that DirecPC users still need an ordinary Internet Access Provider (apart from DirecPC) to use the satellite service, Internet access via geostationary satellites does not perform too well at all. 
Limitations of the TCP/IP protocol, depending on implementation and set-up under various operating systems, may cut the actual transmission rate down to 128 kilobytes per second, no matter how fast the connection may be in theory. In addition, protocols like HTTP (used for the World Wide Web) may incur further delays. 
The reason for all these shortcomings, of course, is the delay that any transmission suffers while travelling up to a geostationary satellite and back down again, a distance that stretches at least 72,000 kilometres. 
As most protocols used in connection with the Internet tend to be quite talkative, the delays accumulate to an extent that might make Web pages download much slower over a geostationary satellite than over true network connections.

A company by the name of WebTV has unveiled a new technology dubbed "VideoFlash" that enables "full-screen, television quality video" on the Internet through conventional telephone lines. So what? We've heard that stuff a lot of times before.
Ironically, WebTV is a company that -- although not too successfully -- tries to market Internet access using TV sets. 
Of course, this is as ridiculous as saying "Hey, you can now use your radio to make telephone calls if only you buy our additional hardware." WebTV users have to buy even more hardware if they want to be able to type in a URL or write email: they need a keyboard. ("Oh well, you can't really make a call. If you actually want to speak to somebody over our radio-phone, you'd have to buy that additional microphone.")
While all that may still sound somewhat reasonable, WebTV's move to introduce full-screen television to television sets definitely is one step beyond.
(Do not, I repeat, do NOT try http://www.web-tv.com. It's disgusting! Smut!! Bah!!)

"The Eagle has landed. No damage to capsule. Envelope released by bolts. We will talk to you by satellite phone."
(Richard Branson, the UK's one and only media mogul, shortly after the abrupt landing of his balloon that was supposed to make a trip around the world in 18 days. The trip lasted just 19 hours. Following a ballast-versus-helium problem," the balloon came down somewhere in the Algerian desert.)

Copyright 1997 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.

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