Broadband hopes stalled as Anik-F2 launch delayed

The advent of broadband high-speed Internet in remote and rural North American communities was put on hold Monday following a delay in the launch of the largest satellite ever made.

Telesat Canada was scheduled put into orbit

the Anik F2, a 5,950 kg. machine with solar panels stretching close to 50 metres across in space once unfolded. However Arianespace, the company that was to launch the Anik F2, advised Telesat late in the day that during the final countdown operations, an anomaly occurred during a data checkpoint with the launcher. As a result, the launcher will be moved back to the Ariane 5 Final Assembly Building in order to correct the anomaly. The launch vehicle and its Anik F2 satellite payload have been continuously maintained in a fully safe and controlled standby condition, Telesat said. The launch had been to take place from Kourou, French Guiana.

Once it finally ends up in space, the Anik F2 will be using Ka-band, a frequency running 28 GHz that promises to allow two-way communication from an antenna just 66 centimetres in diameter. Data is expected to flow at 1 Mbps.

In an interview shortly before the delay, Telesat vice-president of finance and treasurer Ted Ignacy said approximately 75 per cent of the satellite’s capacity has been pre-sold. There are 45 spot beams in the Ka-band, 15 of which cover Canada. The Canadian Space Agency has approximately $50 million in a capacity credit in return for contributing to the Ka-band payload.

Although satellite communications has a history of challenges and failures, including the bankruptcy of phone provider Iridium, Ignacy said Telesat has high hopes the unproven Ka-band technology will be attractive to what it estimates as the 25 per cent of the population that sits out of range of traditional Internet services.

“”DSL or coaxial cable will not cover last 10 to 15 per cent of the population. They will always be second cousins in terms of getting access to the Internet,”” he said “”What high-speed allows you do is offer access for students in remote learning environments, access to diagnostics.””

One of the conditions of licence to win the 118.7 degree slot was to make C-band capacity available to the government, two channels of which will be used in the federal government’s National Satellite Initiative, which was launched last year.

Gilles Leclerc, director general of space technologies at the Canadian Space Agency, said its capacity credit will be spread over 10 years and will be managed by Industry Canada through a call for proposals process.

“”It has to correspond to the government-wide priority of connecting all communities,”” he said. “”Certainly in education, access to modern tools in remote communities is a top priority.””

Leclerc said the Canadian Space Agency will also be using its capacity to support R&D into two-way communications, Internet access and telemedicine.

Max Engel, an analyst with research firm Frost & Sullivan, said Telesat may struggle to attract the subscriber base it is expecting.

“”Ka-band broadband was going to be the future, and it was going to be the future five years ago — by now we were supposed to be hip-deep in broadband,”” he said. “”It’s very helpful for having the amount of broadband you’d like to have, but it has problems with rain attenuation, as anyone will tell you.””

Other problems traditionally associated with Ka-band include gaseous absorption, cloud attenuation and melting layer attenuation. Ignacy said Telesat is mitigating the risk by carrying several other bands, including C-band and Ku-band, with which it is more experienced.

Anik F2 has been under development since the late 1990s, and a contract for its construction was signed with Boeing Satellite Systems in 2000, Ignacy said. It will be another two or three months of testing before it’s ready for service.

“”That’s a long, long period of time to be betting on a certain technology,”” he admitted. “”There’s a lot of interest in Ka-band all around the world . . . we’re not going to be stuck with a completely new technology that doesn’t have a market.””

While Telesat and the government tout the potential of satellites to usher in advanced distance applications, Engel said none of these applications have much a track record.

“”It’s an experiment. If you go to a bank and say, ‘I want a loan to build this,’ I don’t believe anyone has an application that’s a no-brainer,”” Ignacy said. “”You can say telemedicine and maybe you can make something of it, but you can’t prove it.””

Capacity on the Anik F2 has also been sold to Shaw Communications’ Star Choice Communications and WildBlue based in Greenwood, Co.

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