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VSAT Business Satellite Broadband Advantages
Business satellite services offer reliable Internet and VPN service at reasonable prices.

By: John Shepler

Among the choices for business grade Internet and VPN access are DSL, T-carrier such as T1 and T3 lines, fiber optic carriers and VSAT satellite. But isn't satellite an expensive way to go? Actually, it may be your most cost effective option. That's especially true if your need is located in a remote or rural area or if you need relatively low bandwidth rates.

What is VSAT?
VSAT stands for Very Small Aperture Terminal. In this case "very small" means a satellite dish that is smaller than 3 meters or 9 feet in diameter. Many are much smaller than that, typically one meter or less. It's that small signal collecting area or aperture that makes VSAT ground stations attractive for SMB (Small to Medium size Business) applications. VSAT dishes can be roof, wall or pole mounted, or can be installed on flat roofs with a non-penetrating mount in a matter of a few hours.

The technology that allows VSAT to be practical and cost effective is the use of Ka and Ku band spot beam satellites. The Ka band of frequencies cover 18 to 31 GHz, above the 12 to 18 GHz Ku band that is also used by satellite TV providers. Spot beams are directional antennas that focus their power on a limited geographic area. That allows for higher signal levels for greater reliability and smaller dishes. It also allows for higher satellite capacity, as frequencies can be reused in areas where the beams do not overlap.

Another cost reducing strategy is the use of standard DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) modems to encode the data. DOCSIS is a mature standard and widely used by cable operators to provide Internet broadband services.

What is the Advantage of VSAT?
So what does this get you? Always on two-way Internet connectivity via satellite terminal starts at under $50 a month for the low rate service of 64Kbps x 64Kbps. That rate is what you'd get with a single ISDN BRI bearer channel and is faster than a dial-up modem, without tying up a phone line or waiting to dial-in. Many small retail POS (Point of Sale) systems are happy with that bandwidth for credit card verification and uploading accounting and inventory data on a daily basis. This includes retail shops, grocery stores and quick service restaurants.

Some of the largest retail chains are currently using business satellite links either as their primary or backup Internet link. Look up at the roofs on gas stations, especially the unattended ones, pharmacies, car dealerships and huge retail centers. That's what those dishes are for. VSAT was originally developed for the oil service industry and is still used for oil field monitoring. Other applications are telemedicine, education, financial services, digital billboards and remote monitoring or SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition).

Many of these applications require higher bandwidths than the 64K DS0 level. VSAT bandwidth is available in many increments of upload and download bandwidths up to 5 Mbps x 768 Kbps.

You should be aware that there is usually an equipment charge associated with two-way satellite terminals. For many services this will be around a thousand dollars. The dish must be installed and aimed by a licensed professional since it contains a radio transmitter that could cause interference if not pointed exactly at the intended satellite.

Business Satellite Service vs Consumer Satellite Internet
What differentiates business satellite service from consumer satellite Internet is a wider range of available bandwidth services, SLA or service level agreements that are guarantees of availability, VPN or Virtual Private Networking service for secure corporate data transfers, and enterprise class network operation centers. One service offered through Broad Sky Networks features an average signal latency of 650 msec, compared to 1 to 2 seconds experienced on some systems. Latency is important on interactive applications, such as VoIP telephone and video conferencing because it introduces time delays in the communications. Satellite link latency is normally much greater than landline latency because of the over 52,000 mile round trip to and from the geosynchronous orbit positions.

Business satellite services also may offer more generous fair access policies than consumer grade services. The satellite is a limited resource that will bog down if one client continuously uploads or downloads data. The fair access policy defines theweekly or monthly data quotas before the system will start to slow down or choke off data to a particular satellite terminal. This is not really an issue for most business customers, but could be if you are trying to use a satellite link for massive remote data backups or streaming audio or video. In that case, a terrestrial link such as a T1 or DS3 private line would be more appropriate.

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