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AOL planning satellite-DSL broadband combo?

Adding DSL as the return pipe for satellite data could be a winner

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AOL yesterday fleshed-out its next generation network plans by promising high speed DSL access across the United States. The company, which was briefing analysts, didn't specify either when this would happen or when broadband access outside of the US would be offered, but the scheme seems a plausible fit for the company's satellite-based AOL TV system. DSL is rolling out slowly in the US, and rather more slowly elsewhere. To some extent it's a rival to cable modem, but as a telecoms technology it has obvious attractions to AOL - service will be more a matter of user choice, whereas with cable modem you'll usually wind up with whatever service the cable company offers you. If you have a cable company. And while cable modem speeds are theoretically high, they're only as good as the provider is prepared to pay for. In a recent test run by Keynote Systems, a DSL connection beat cable during peak time use, i.e. in what you might call a real life scenario. Combined with satellite, however, DSL could be a winner for AOL. Initially AOL's 'satellite' service won't actually use satellite for data at all. Users will get combination satellite TV receiver and an Internet access system that uses plain old dial-up both for send and receive. But it seems that the systems AOL is using are already data-capable. Hughes, according to one tester who's been in touch with us, is working on ways to allow data grade signals to be picked up via DirecTV dish receivers. The Hughes satellites operate for both DirecTV and DirecPC, but the 'DirecTV' system can in fact broadcast data. According to our tester other satellite systems use the same technology as DirecTV, and it would therefore be a simple matter for them to 'switch on' data coverage, the obvious problem for them of course being the return pipe. Satellite at the moment is a highly efficient 'star' network topology that can send data down at high speeds, and that isn't vulnerable to the peak-time bottlenecking cable will experience, but you need a way to get data back from the user to the network. Which is where AOL, and maybe DSL, come in. AOL already has the dial-up network, and by introducing DSL or other high speed technologies (our tester suggests wireless, and why not?) in conjunction with satellite it would have an instant, high-reliability data out system running with a fairly high speed return pipe. And the network could have a global footprint almost immediately. AOL has dial-up practically everywhere, and Hughes' DirecPC is widely, if somewhat thinly, available. It's sold in Europe via a joint venture with Olivetti, for example, and it's also available in Japan. ®

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