UK looks to satellite to deliver universal broadband

Britain’s satellite industry looks likely to expand considerably under government plans to offer a universal broadband internet service, the Financial Times reports.

People close to the consultation on the Digital Britain report, due out in June, apparently expects Lord Carter, the communications minister, to say that access to high-speed internet connections in rural areas will have to be partly provided by satellite links.

Lord Carter is also expected to call for UK satellite capacity to be increased to meet this new demand, the FT says, for areas where providing broadband via fixed or mobile networks would not be feasible. This is thought to be about 10% of the UK’s population. One of the report’s main priorities is that every home should have access to at least 2Mbps broadband services.

The FT article says estimates for extending fibre-optic cable to every home in the UK range from £15 billion and £50 billion. Mobile base stations, cost between £30,000 and £250,000 to set up, and mobile operators such as 3 estimate that networks, currently consisting of about 13,000 base stations, would have to increase to around 20,000 to offer sufficiently fast connections.

Satellite operators now exploit the Ka-band, which allows satellite beams to be highly concentrated on relatively small areas.

However satellite communications are highly susceptible to atmospheric changes and prone to delays, which would make interactivities, such as gaming, difficult. In the past they have always been much more expensive too – how the pricing will pan out remains to be seen.