With new satellite tech, rural dwellers get access to true broadband

HughesNet has turns on its residential broadband service, offering 15 Mbps speeds in rural America where the quality of broadband connections have always suffered. Hughes isn’t the only one though. A new generation of satellite tech is dramatically boosting speeds available to underserved areas.

FCC chair grants AT&T’s wish for a nationwide 4G band

AT&T wants to rejigger a useless hunk of airwaves for LTE use, but to do so it needs special dispensation from the FCC. Today chairman Julius Genachowski signed off its plan and officially set the ball rolling toward opening the WCS band for 4G.

Google in Space: NASA powers mini-satellites with Android phones

NASA is experimenting with new satellites that use off-the-shelf electronics to cut down on costs. At the heart of its new nanosatellite is a Google Nexus smartphone, which has both the processing power to run the orbiter and the sensors it needs to perform its mission.

How Iridium took a chance on SpaceX and won

Today SpaceX is an aerospace sensation, but several years ago the prospects of the fledgling space travel startup weren’t so certain. That’s when satellite communications provider Iridium decided to place a huge bet on SpaceX, handing it the single biggest commercial launch contract in history.

Can metamaterials perfect satellite broadband?

After four years, Intellectual Ventures is spinning off the second company from its vast intellectual property portfolio. Kymeta is focused on using materials not found in nature to build radio-wave shaping satellite antennas, which could be used to connect any boat, plane or truck to the internet.

ESPN plans wall-to-wall digital Wimbledon — for some

For the first time in the digital age one U.S. network has complete rights across platforms. ESPN will live stream 800 hours+ on broadband network ESPN3, plus ESPN and ESPN2 via Watch ESPN, And it’s only for subscribers. Tennis Everywhere, as long as someone pays.

AT&T wants to teach an old spectrum band new 4G tricks

A wireless band that the mobile industry has practically written off may get a new life as 4G spectrum if a new proposal from AT&T(s t) and Sirius XM(s siri) gets regulatory approval. The two strange bedfellows have submitted a joint filing to the FCC requesting permission to use AT&T’s long dormant 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Service (WCS) for an LTE network.
Deploying any kind of service on WCS has been cluster-you-know-what for any operator that has made the attempt. ExtremeTech provides an excellent description of the problems of making WCS workable for mobile broadband:

WCS licenses were auctioned off by the FCC in 1997. The FCC hoped that it would be used rather quickly, but the restrictions that WCS imposed on licensees caused issues. For one, the power and emissions restrictions made it nearly impossible to deploy any sort of terrestrial network technology.
The other issue was that satellite radio (officially known as the Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service, or SDARS) lived in between two halves of the WCS frequency range. That meant that terrestrial network technologies would easily block out satellite radio signals from receivers. This alone has severely paralyzed efforts to make the WCS frequencies usable.

AT&T and BellSouth, which was eventually acquired by Ma Bell, experimented with the band for years, launching trial pre-standard WiMAX networks in several markets (Oddly, one of those markets was Pahrump, Nev., the brothel capital of the U.S.). But neither company could make the technology work, and both were constantly running up against the protests of Sirius and XM, which themselves merged in 2008.
But apparently these old antagonists have come to an accord. From the FCC filing:

In order to resolve these issues, AT&T and Sirius XM met to discuss whether their differences could be bridged and have reached an accommodation with significant concessions on both sides. The accommodation, if accepted in its entirety, will enable the adoption of technical rules satisfactory to both interests and allow licenses in the 2.3 GHz band to exploit the most efficient new mobile broadband standards, including LTE, while limiting the potential interference to satellite radio reception to respectable levels.

The major concession appears to be on AT&T’s part. The carrier has agreed to carve out a 5 MHz guard band on either side of Sirius’s satellite spectrum, creating in essence a no-man’s zone where no transmissions can travel. That’s quite a big deal actually: As little as 10 MHz can support a full-fledged HSPA network and is equivalent to half the LTE capacity AT&T has deployed in most markets.
But AT&T figures it is better than not being able to use the spectrum at all — and risk losing it. In fact, AT&T has been trying to sell off the same WCS airwaves it now proposes to make guard bands.
If the FCC grants AT&T’s request it will be left with between 10 and 20 MHz of remaining spectrum over which to launch LTE. It may seem like a win for all parties involved, but this won’t be an automatic approval for the FCC. AT&T is the largest spectrum holder in WCS, but there are other licensees that could potentially get screwed by this proposal. As satellite broadband analyst Tim Farrar points out on his blog, NextWave owns a lot of WCS, and nearly half of its holdings are in the same blocks that AT&T wants to make off-limits.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Nicolas Raymond

How femtocells are connecting the Congo

You thought it was hard to get cellular coverage in your basement — try getting it in the rain forests of the Congo. RascomStar plans to ensure that remotest communities in the Republic of the Congo get mobile service using the smallest access node imaginable: the femtocell.