WildBlue: AT&T’s DeathStar?

Posted by Sam Churchill on

That’s no moon. It’s a space station. – Obi-Wan

GigOm has the poop on AT&T. They’re going to sell WildBlue’s internet satellite service starting later this month. WildBlue will provide all of the necessary equipment for the service in areas that are not served by DSL today.

AT&T/SBC CEO Ed Whitacre (right), made the announcement at the Detroit Economic Club. WildBlue has the the most cost/effective 2-way satellite internet package.

WildBlue’s packages start at $50/month, with the dish and modem costing $299 and an installation fee of $80 typical. WildBlue uses 30 Ghz spot beams for smaller, faster, cheaper 2-way satellite links. The downside is that latency makes voice problematic, gear is more expensive than cable modems or DSL, and WildBlue is data-only — it must team up with a video partner.

AT&T plans to spend approximately $4.6 billion on Project Lightspeed to reach nearly 19 million homes by year-end 2008 as part of its initial deployment. Whitacre said Project Lightspeed will be available within three years to more than 5.5 million low-income households as part of its initial build in 41 target markets.

AT&T’s new fixed wireless deployments, will be launched this summer in Pahrump, Nevada and Red Oak and Midlothian, Texas, with AT&T Yahoo! to enable AT&T to further develop and refine WiMAX and other fixed wireless technologies as potential solutions for delivering services on a mass-market scale.

WildBlue (above) uses spot beams on Canada’s Anik F2. It got off the ground last year. WildBlue began delivering 2-way internet access last June using 20/30 Ghz transponders on F2 at 111.1 degrees. Consumers with mini dishes will be able to receive both broadband Internet and satellite television from DirecTV or EchoStar’s DISH Network.

Wild Blue leases 30 of the 45 Ka band transponders on F-2 for 2-way internet access. WildBlue-1 will be their own satellite. It is scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2006 and will cover North America with 41 overlapping Ka-band spot beams by January 2007 (if all goes well) Then Anik F2 will act as backup. WildBlue was founded as KaSTAR ten years ago in Colorado. CEO, Tom Moore, was an executive at CableLabs. WildBlue’s satellite modem is built by ViaSat, and is based on cable DOCSIS standards.

Satellite transponders can cost more than $100,000/month but only support 1,000-2,000 subscribers. Service doesn’t pencil out under $100/month. Multiple spot beams, with frequency re-use, is the key. It expands the number of subs per transponder and brings costs down.

The News Corp. bought DBS DirecTV, and with it Spaceway, the 2-way Ka spot beam satellite. Spaceway was originally going to be a “switchboard in the sky” but Murdock turned it into a spot beam DBS broadcast service for HDTV in the United States, putting local HD stations on the satellite.

The SpaceWay fleet was going to revolutionize broadband access in the United States (and the World) but it never got off the ground. Cheaper, faster broadband and the threat of WiMAX brought the vision down to earth.

The only real competition for WildBlue now appears to be from Spaceway 3, the last Ka spotbeam left in the SpaceWay inventory. Spaceway 3 retains the vision of 2-way, Ka band satellite architecture. The Spaceway VSAT technology is completely different from WildBlue and was designed to deliver P2P for multi-point business teleconferencing.

Hughes Network Service will operate the remaining Spaceway 3 satellite. DirectWay is now called HughesNet operating the current generation Ku band, 2-way satellite platforms. They plan to operate Spaceway 3 as it was originally intended — as a 2-way service. It won’t launch until 2007, however. Then they’ll move Ku band 2-way services to the Ka band Spaceway 3.

Meanwhile, SkyTerra has bigger fish to fry. MSV plans to deliver cellular phone and data service using a scary big satellite platform that blots out the sun (above). The FCC granted their MSV Joint Venture permission to operate an ancillary terrestrial component, or ATC, in the L-Band. That will allow faster, cheaper satphones with high speed data (at 1.6 GHz).

The problem with ATT/SBC/BellSouth is frequencies. AT&T doesn’t have any. They’ll have to use BellSouth’s 2.3 GHz which is periously close to XM satellite radio’s 2.3 GHz repeaters.

AT&T isn’t going to fund its competitors like Sprint-Nextel for WiMAX frequencies.

That leaves Craig McCaw’s Clearwire as the only real choice for licensed broadband wireless. Broadcasters, satellite providers and independent ISPs like Earthlink and AOL are lining up. Take a number, Ed.

If AT&T tries to use unlicensed 5.8 GHz WiMAX, they’ll be killed by Sprint/DirecTV or Clearwire/AOL. AT&T ought to buy DragonWave’s unlicensed 24GHz backhaul just for the hell of it. The AWS band at 1.7/2.1 GHz is okay for 3G cellular but doesn’t have enough bandwidth for multi-line businesses.

What AT&T needs is broadband wireless. What they have is a brand.

Related DailyWireless stories include; WildBlue V-Sat, DirecTV Launches F2, DirectWay Lowers Sat Cost, Satphones Localize, Spaceway 1 Launched, DirecTV Kills Two-Way Spaceway, Spot Beam Satellite Launched, Mobile Satellite Access, Inmarsat Launches Spotbeam Satellite, and WildBlue Launches.

I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters. – Luke

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, May 8th, 2006 at 10:18 am .

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