Last Updated: Friday, 4 March 2005, 17:23 GMT
Broadband goes further by satellite
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online

As the world becomes increasingly connected with optic fibre, 3G networks and other wireless solutions, David Reid looks at the Inmarsat satellite communications project which could bring broadband to the masses.

Inmarsat-4 Satellite
The Inmarsat-4 Satellite will have an orbit of 22,000 miles
The Inmarsat-4 Satellite Project will provide a broadband internet connection to the remotest corners of the world.

It is all done by a satellite the size of a London bus, that is very soon to be shot into orbit.

Where this differs from conventional satellites is that it can focus its power through very narrow beams onto a much smaller area of the earth.

The project's director, Franco Carnevale, says: "This allows the power generated by the space-craft to be concentrated in small areas in such a way that a high data-rate can be achieved.

"In a classical satellite the beams are quite wide. It is designed into the system and they are fixed on Earth.

"Here we have the flexibility of dynamically allocating the beams and the power within the beams, hence accommodating the area on the Earth's surface where there is high demand for communication."

Its ability to focus its energies allows it to make connections for those phone, internet or data users in places where 3G networks fear to tread.

Good reception

Up a mountain for example, try as I might, I am just not going to get a signal.

When lines are down on Earth, or networks are simply missing, a satellite hovering overhead is as constant as a star.
Places that are well off the beaten track rarely get a network.

For operators it is too much work for too few clients.

However, as recent events in South East Asia have shown, it is often the world's least hospitable places or those which have been hit by natural disaster that, in times of crisis, most need reliable communication.

When lines are down on Earth, or networks are simply missing, a satellite hovering overhead is as constant as a star.

Chris McLaughlin, also from the project, says: "You will use the satellites more for filling where the more traditional city environment 3G networks will never be.

"In much of the third world, certainly on the oceans, you'll never see a 3G network.

"News-gatherers use Inmarsat to bring back information about how society is improving or changing.

"Our satellites provide a broadband environment for everything from news-gathering to fun. That is something that today's 3G phones won't be doing."


Solar oven
Before launch, the satellite undergoes a series of tests
Reliability and testing are important.

Once it is circling 22,000 miles (35,000km) overhead, you cannot really pull a satellite over and peer under the hood.

Scientists have to simulate down here what a satellite will go through up there.

One uncomfortable looking room recreates the electromagnetic environment of space.

It even gets a blast from an oven as powerful as the sun's radiation.

And that is not to mention the rattle room, where satellites experience the ear-splitting sound of take off.

These are the sort of tests that help scientists, if not the neighbours, sleep at night.

Inmarsat-4 programme director Michel Le Moine says: "We have spent so many hours in testing this satellite, in taking all the precautions needed and the care needed during the design phase, that I think that being scared is not part of our world."

Communication satellites themselves are also not part of our world for another reason.

While most IT seems to be shrinking, their future is very different.

Communication satellites are parked in an orbit that keeps them in a fixed position to the Earth's surface.

Getting them there is costly, so manufacturers load them to the hilt, so they last longer.

What is more, the demand for greater bandwidth means more power.

More power means bigger solar panels, batteries and transmitters.

In short, when it comes to communication satellites, big is beautiful.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.


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