ASTRA2Connect provides high-speed Internet access at a flat rate cost to end users, along with VoIP, IPTV, and content-on-demand facilities, without any requirement for a landline, cable or terrestrial wireless connection.
The ASTRA2Connect service makes broadband Internet access available to homes in rural locations or otherwise beyond the reach of existing terrestrial broadband services. Outside the major European urban centres, there are millions of households currently without broadband access through landlines. and by 2010, up to 6million, or 3.5%, of the 170 million homes in Western Europe will still be without terrestrial broadband access.
ASTRA2Connect can also be used for transportable broadband Internet access, where the location or its temporary nature prohibits a terrestrial connection, although the equipment requires mains power and cannot be used while actually in motion.
The return path is handled in a similar fashion, but with a low power 500mW transmitter on each terminal dish providing the uplink to the satellite, with multiple-frequency time division multiple access techniques employed to handle many remote terminals simultaneously.
The central hub and terminal technology is developed by a Belgian company called Newtec
ASTRA2Connect uses the ASTRA 1E communications satellite at the 23.5° east orbital position to handle uplinks and downlinks in both directions. A number of transponders are used for the hub-to-terminal downlink in the satellite TV downlink segment of the Ku band (10.70GHz-12.75GHz). The terminal-to-hub uplink to the satellite uses using the uplink segment of the Ku band (14.00GHz-14.50 GHz) and extended Ku band (13.75GHz-14.25GHz)
ASTRA2Connect services are sold to residential users by a number of ISPs in partnership with SES ASTRA. Such partnerships operate either exclusively or in competition within different regions and countries of Europe. Germany was the first country to receive access to ASTRA2Connect services. SES ASTRA currently has partnerships with ISPs to provide ASTRA2Connect services in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Spain. with partnerships in other countries under negotiation.
The first ASTRA2Connect service provider in Germany was ISP, Filiago which is responsible for marketing and selling the ASTRA2Connect service, providing home and business installations, billing, and running a subscriber helpdesk. SES ASTRA provides the ASTRA2Connect satellite capacity, a DVB/IP Internet platform, uplink services, Internet backbone connectivity, subscriber activation and monitoring, and technical support for Filiago.
Customers of Filiago purchase the ASTRA2Connect terminal equipment for €320, pay a €100 registration fee and a flat rate monthly fee according to the maximum speed – €20 for 256Kbit/s download, 64Kbits/s upload, €30 for 512Kbit/s download, 96Kbits/s upload, or €40 for 1024Kbit/s download, 128Kbits/s upload.
The iLNB combines the feedhorn and electronics for reception and transmission in one unit, and is provided with two F connectors for receive and transmit connection to the IPmodem. The reception (download) section is equivalent to a universal LNB used in a European domestic direct broadcast satellite TV system but provides for reception of one signal polarity only (selection of the correct polarity at installation is obtained by rotating the iLNB within its mount on the dish).
The IPmodem is a small plastic-cased mains powered unit with F connectors for connection to both receive and transmit sections of the iLNB. It requires no software on the end user’s PC and connects directly, or via a LAN using a standard RJ45 Ethernet connector.
The terminal acts as a DHCP server for the computer, and provides LED indicators for power, satellite link alarm, LAN connection, LAN data, satellite signal received and satellite transmission. With the dish aligned correctly on the correct satellite, the IPmodem automatically seeks out the initial receive carrier frequency (10.891GHz) and establishes a satellite connection.
ASTRA2Connect provides an always-on connection but overall downloaded data is limited by a "fair use" policy. More than 2Gbyte of data downloaded per month reaches the fair use limit, and access speed is then automatically throttled. However, the speed is restored to the maximum at the start of each month. Moreover, tests conducted by German consumer magazine, PC Magazin, found the limit was not a practical constraint: "Despite violent download orgies, we didn’t came up against the 'Fair Policy'. We had the full 1024Kbit/s at our disposal for the whole test period.
A maximum download speed of 1024Kbit/s and a maximum upload speed of 128Kbit/s. puts ASTRA2Connect on par with terrestrial broadband connections. German consumer magazine, SatVision declared the ASTRA2Connect speed "Good" with a score of 83.3%, while PC Magazin found "The speed of the data transfer is what you’d expect from 1Mbit/s access. Our tests rushed through the ether at about 115Kbyte/s.
Potential drawbacks of satellite broadband systems include the lack of security of the download data (which can be received by anyone within the satellite’s footprint) and the delay inherent in the connection – as both upload and download data must follow the route from the ground to the satellite (located some 35,785km above the Earth) and back, there is a minimum total delay or latency (depending on the location of the receive site) of about 0.5 seconds.
ASTRA2Connect data transmission features two-way TCP encryption to provide security, and data compression, TCP-acceleration, and HTTP pre-fetching (at the server and subscriber ends) to alleviate the effects of satellite latency.
Digital Fernsehen magazine’s tests of ASTRA2Connect found that "two-way connection via satellite is unsuitable for lovers of on-line games. The Ping times measured are too long for this application, with values of 578ms-589ms". However, PC Magazin’s tests found: "The echo (Ping) times were around 650ms. For large downloads, that is insignificant and while surfing on the Internet, it’s easy to accept a half-second 'time to reflect'.