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Avanti looks to government funding for second satellite

While the first languishes on the launch pad

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Satellite broadband provider Avanti is expecting a chunk of government cash to pay for a second satellite, despite not having managed to launch the first one yet.

Avanti's CEO has been telling the Financial Times that the company expects to get a significant share of the £200m that the government has promised to spend on broadband for all. The money would be enough to launch a second satellite and provide even more broadband services. But the suggestion glosses over the delayed launch of the company's first bird, which is now scheduled for next year.

Not that the delay is really Avanti's fault - the company had a launch deal with SpaceX, but in July signed a deal with Arianespace for a May 2010 launch of its HYLAS satellite because of the slipping schedule for SpaceX's Falcon 9.

Satellite broadband works well enough, especially in small communities where one connection can be efficiently shared, but the latency of reaching orbit is increasingly problematic as applications get more sensitive to the lag.

Latency aside, HYLAS will provide 2Mb/sec and require a 66cm dish, so Avanti would like some government money to pay for HYLAS-2 which promises 10Mb/sec connections that can be more effectively shared. The UK taxpayer already has money sunk into HYLAS, which came out of the European Space Agency, but in his Digital Britain report Lord Carter promised 2Mb/sec to every home in the UK, and satellite is probably the only way to fulfil that promise.

But Lord Carter is long gone now, and the appetite for large-scale investment into linking up everybody in the UK has largely disappeared, as urban tax payers realised they were being asked to subsidise rural web surfers.

Avanti has managed to make money out of satellite broadband - selling services carried by Intelsat - and should be applauded for doing so when so many companies have failed. But if the government really does have £200m to pour into broadband for all, then Avanti will have to compete with the mobile phone companies, who might not have the same bandwidth, but at least lack the latency. ®

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