Is a Balloon Based Internet Service a Threat to Traditional Cable and DSL?


Update:

 

Looks like this might be the real deal. A mystery barge in San Francisco Bay owned by Google

 

I recently read an article regarding Google’s foray into balloon based Internet services.

This intriguing idea sparked a discussion with some of the engineers at a major satellite internet provider on the same subject. They, as well as myself, were somewhat skeptical at the feasibility of this balloon idea. Could we be wrong? Obviously, there are some unconventional obstacles with bouncing Internet signals off balloons, but what if those obstacles could be economically overcome?

First lets look at the practicalities of using balloons to beam Internet signals from ground based stations to consumers.

Advantages over satellite service

Latency

Satellite Internet, the kind used by Wild Blue, usually comes with a minimum of a 1 second delay, sometimes more. The bulk of this signal delay is due to the distance required for a stationary satellite, 22,000 miles.

A balloon would be located much closer to the earth, in  the atmosphere at around 2 to 12 miles up. The delay at this distance latency is just a few milliseconds.

Cost

Getting a basic stationary satellite into space runs at a minimum 50 million dollars, and perhaps a bit less for a low orbiting non stationary satellite.

Balloons are relatively inexpensive compared to a satellite. Although I don’t have exact numbers on a balloon, the launch cost is practically zero, a balloon carries its payload without any additional energy or infrastructure, the only real cost is the balloon, the payload, and ground based stations. For comparison purposes let’s go with 50,000 per balloon.

Power

Both options can use solar, orienting a balloon position with solar collectors might require 360 degree coverage; however as we will see a balloon can be tethered and periodically raised and lowered, in which case power can be ground based rechargeable.

Logistics

This is the elephant in the room. The position of a satellite in time is extremely predictable. Even for satellites that are not stationery, they can be relied on to be where they are supposed to be at any given time. This makes coverage planning deterministic. Balloons on the other hand, unless tethered will wonder with very little future predictability.

Coverage Range

A balloon at 10,000 feet can cover a Radius on the ground of about 70 miles.  A stationary satellite can cover an entire continent.  So you would need a series of balloons to cover an area reliably.

Untethered

I have to throw out the idea of untethered high altitude balloons. They would wander all over the world , and crash back to earth in random places. Even if  it was cost-effective to saturate the upper atmosphere with them, and pick them out when in range for communications, I just don’t think NASA would be too excited to have 1000’s of these large balloons in unpredictable drift patterns .

Tethered

As crazy as it sounds, there is a precedent for tethering a communication balloon to a 10,000 foot cable. Evidently the US did something like this to broadcast TV signals into Cuba. I suppose for an isolated area where you can hang out offshore well out-of-the-way of any air traffic, this is possible

High Density Area Competition

So far I have been running under the assumption that the balloon based Internet service was an alternative to satellite coverage which finds its niche exclusively in rural areas of the world.  When I think of the monopoly and cost advantage existing carriers have in urban areas, a wireless service with beamed high speeds from overhead might have some staying power. Certainly there could be some overlap with rural users and thus the economics of deployment become more cost-effective. The more subscribers the better. But I do not see urban coverage as a driving business factor.

Would the consumer need a directional Antenna?

I have been assuming all along that these balloons would supply direct service to the consumer. I would suspect that some sort of directional antenna pointing at your local offshore balloon would need to be attached to the side of your house.  This is another reason why the balloons would need to be in a stationary position

My conclusion is that somebody, like Google, could conceivably create a balloon zone off of any coastline with a series of Balloons tethered to barges of some kind. The main problem assuming cost was not an issue, would be the political ramifications of  a plane hitting one of the tethers. With Internet demand on the rise, 4g’s limited range, and the high cost of laying wires to the rural home, I would not be surprised to see a test network someplace in the near future.

Tethered Balloon ( Courtesy of Arstechnica article)

Equalizing Compared to Application Shaping (Traditional Layer-7 “Deep Packet Inspection” Products)


Editor’s Note: (Updated with new material March 2012)  Since we first wrote this article, many customers have implemented the NetEqualizer not only to shape their Internet traffic, but also to shape their company WAN.  Additionally, concerns about DPI and loss of privacy have bubbled up. (Updated with new material September 2010)  Since we first published this article, “deep packet inspection”, also known as Application Shaping, has taken some serious industry hits with respect to US-based ISPs.   

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Author’s Note: We often get asked how NetEqualizer compares to Packeteer (Bluecoat), NetEnforcer (Allot), Network Composer (Cymphonix), Exinda, and a plethora of other well-known companies that do Application Shaping (aka “packet shaping”, “deep packet inspection”, or “Layer-7” shaping).   After several years of these questions, and discussing different aspects with former and current application shaping with IT administrators, we’ve developed a response that should clarify the differences between NetEqualizer’s behavior- based approach and the rest of the pack.
We thought of putting our response into a short, bullet-by-bullet table format, but then decided that since this decision often involves tens of thousands of dollars, 15 minutes of education on the subject with content to support the bullet chart was in order.  If you want to skip the details, see our Summary Table at the end of this article

However, if you’re looking to really understand the differences, and to have the question answered as objectively as possible, please take a few minutes to read on…
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How NetEqualizer compares to Bluecoat, Allot, Cymphonix, & Exinda

In the following sections, we will cover specifically when and where Application Shaping is used, how it can be used to your advantage, and also when it may not be a good option for what you are trying to accomplish.  We will also discuss how Equalizing, NetEqualizer’s behavior-based shaping, fits into the landscape of application shaping, and how in many cases Equalizing is a much better alternative.

Download the full article (PDF)  Equalizing Compared To Application Shaping White Paper

Read the rest of this entry »

NetEqualizer Bandwidth Shaping Solution: Hotels & Resorts


In working with some of the world’s leading hotels and resorts, we’ve repeatedly heard the same issues and challenges facing network administrators. Here are just a few:

Download Hotels White Paper

  • We need to do more with less bandwidth.
  • We need a solution that’s low cost, low maintenance, and easy to set up.
  • We need to meet the expectations of our tech-savvy customers and prevent Internet congestion during times of peak usage.
  • We need a solution that can meet the demands of a constantly changing clientele. We need to offer tiered internet access for our hotel guests, and provide managed access for conference attendees.

In this article, we’ll talk about how the NetEqualizer has been used to solve these issues for many Hotels and Resorts around the world.

Download article (PDF) Hotels & Resorts White Paper

Read full article …

$1000 Discount Offered Through NetEqualizer Cash For Conversion Program


After witnessing the overwhelming popularity of the government’s Cash for Clunkers new car program, we’ve decided to offer a similar deal to potential NetEqualizer customers. Therefore, this week, we’re announcing the launch of our Cash for Conversion program.The program offers owners of select brands (see below) of network optimization technology a $1000 credit toward the list-price purchase of NetEqualizer NE2000-10 or higher models (click here for a full price list). All owners have to do is send us your old (working or not) or out of license bandwidth control technology. Products from the following manufacturers will be accepted:

  • Exinda
  • Packeteer/Blue Coat
  • Allot
  • Cymphonics
  • Procera

In addition to receiving the $1000 credit toward a NetEqualizer, program participants will also have the peace of mind of knowing that their old technology will be handled responsibly through refurbishment or electronics recycling programs.

Only the listed manufacturers’ products will qualify. Offer good through the Labor Day weekend (September 7, 2009). For more information, contact us at 303-997-1300 or admin@apconnections.net.

Top Tips To Quantify The Cost Of WAN Optimization


Editor’s Note: As we mentioned in a recent article, there’s often some confusion when it comes to how WAN optimization fits into the overall network optimization industry — especially when compared to Internet optimization. Although similar, the two techniques require different approaches to optimization. What follows are some simple questions to ask your vendor before you purchase a WAN optimization appliance. For the record, the NetEqualizer is primarily used for Internet optimization.

When presenting a WAN optimization ROI argument, your vendor rep will clearly make a compelling case for savings.  The ROI case will be made by amortizing the cost of equipment against your contracted rate from your provider. You can and should trust these basic raw numbers. However, there is more to evaluating a WAN optimization (packet shaping) appliance than comparing equipment cost against bandwidth savings. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The amortization schedule should also make reasonable assumptions about future costs for T1, DS3, and OC3 links. Most contracted rates have been dropping in many metro areas and it is reasonable to assume that bandwidth costs will perhaps be 50-percent less two to three years out.
  2. If you do increase bandwidth, the licensing costs for the traffic shaping equipment can increase substantially. You may also find yourself in a situation where you need to do a forklift upgrade as you outrun your current hardware.
  3. Recurring licensing costs are often mandatory to keep your equipment current. Without upgrading your license, your deep packet inspection (layer 7 shaping filters) will become obsolete.
  4. Ongoing labor costs to tune and re-tune your WAN optimization appliance can often costs thousands per week.
  5. The good news is that optimization companies will normally allow you to try an appliance before you buy. Make sure you take the time to manage the equipment with your own internal techs or IT consultant to get an idea of how it will fit into your network.  The honeymoon with new equipment (supported by a well trained pre-sales team) can be short lived. After the free pre-sale support has expired, you will be on your own.

There are certainly times when WAN optimization makes sense, yet it many cases, what appears to be a no-brainer decision at first will begin to be called into question as costs mount down the line. Hopefully these five contributing factors will paint a clearer picture of what to expect.

Created by APconnections, the NetEqualizer is a plug-and-play bandwidth control and WAN/Internet optimization appliance that is flexible and scalable. When the network is congested, NetEqualizer’s unique “behavior shaping” technology dynamically and automatically gives priority to latency sensitive applications, such as VoIP and email. Click here for a full price list.

New Asymmetric Shaping Option Augments NetEqualizer-Lite


We currently have a new release in beta testing that allows for equalizing on an asymmetric link. As is the case with all of our equalizing products, this release will allow users to more efficiently utilize their bandwidth, thus optimizing network performance. This will be especially ideal for users of our recently released NetEqualizer-Lite.

Many wireless access points have a limit on the total amount of bandwidth they can transmit in both directions. This is because only one direction can be talking at a time. Unlike wired networks, where a 10-meg link typically means you can have 10 megs UP and 10 megs going the other direction simultaneously, in  a wireless network you can only have 10 megabits total at any one time.  So, if you had 7 megabits coming in, you could only have 3 megabits going out. These limits are a hard saturation point.

In the past, it was necessary to create separate settings for both the up and down stream. With the new NetEqualizer release, you can simply tell the NetEqualizer that you have an asymmetric 10-megabit link, and congestion control will automatically kick in for both streams,  alleviating bottlenecks more efficiently and keeping your network running smoothly.

For more information on APconnections’ equalizing technology, click here.

NetEqualizer-Lite Is Now Available!


Last month, we introduced our newest release, a Power-over-Ethernet NetEqualizer. Since then, with your help, we’ve titled the new release the NetEqualizer-Lite and are already getting positive feedback from users. Here’s a little background about what led us to release the NetEqualizer-Lite…Over the years, we’d had several customers express interest in placing a NetEqualizer as close as possible to their towers in order to relieve congestion. However, in many cases, this would require both a weatherproof and low-power NetEqualizer unit – two features that were not available up to this point. However, in the midst of a growing demand for this type of technology, we spent the last few months working to meet this need and thus developed the NetEqualizer-Lite.

Here’s what you can expect from the NetEqualizerLite:

  • Power over Ethernet
  • Up to 10 megabits of shaping
  • Up to 200 users
  • Comes complete with all standard NetEqualizer features

And, early feedback on the new release has been positive. Here’s what one user recently posted on DSLReports.com:

We’ve ordered 4 of these and deployed 2 so far. They work exactly like the 1U rackmount NE2000 that we have in our NOC, only the form factor is much smaller (about 6x6x1) and they use POE or a DC power supply. I amp clamped one of the units, and it draws about 7 watts….The Netequalizer has resulted in dramatically improved service to our customers. Most of the time, our customers are seeing their full bandwidth. The only time they don’t see it now is when they’re downloading big files. And, when they don’t see full performance, its only for the brief period that the AP is approaching saturation. The available bandwidth is re-evaulated every 2 seconds, so the throttling periods are often brief. Bottom line to this is that we can deliver significantly more data through the same AP. The customers hitting web pages, checking e-mail, etc. virtually always see full bandwidth, and the hogs don’t impact these customers. Even the hogs see better performance (although that wasn’t one of my priorities). (DSLReports.com)

Pricing for the new model will be $1,200 for existing NetEqualizer users and $1,550 for non-customers purchasing their first unit. However, the price for subsequent units will be $1,200 for users and nonusers alike.

For more information about the new release, contact us at admin@apconnections.net or 1-800-918-2763.

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