(Host) A Virginia company has selected Vermont to test a new generation of telecommunications technology.
The system uses a satellite that can link with ground-based phone and data networks. The goal is to improve cell and broadband coverage in under-served parts of the state.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Late next year, a rocket will blast off from French Guiana in South America and launch a five-story satellite into orbit.
And then, if all goes according to plan, residents of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom will get remarkably better cell phone service.
(Dubie) “This is a fourth generation. This is a leapfrog of the existing technology.”
(Dillon) Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie worked with Virginia-based TerreStar Networks on the pilot project. He met company executives through an association of state officials who work on aerospace issues.
Dubie says the company’s satellite will link with cell towers on the ground to fill in gaps in coverage. A GPS unit in the phone tells the system when you move out of cell range and the satellite picks up from there.
(Dubie) “You got this terrestrial system with a satellite back up and it’s integrated so that you seamlessly go from terrestrial to satellite. And what we really hope to get out of this is to evaluate the technology.”
(Dillon) Doug Sobieski is chief marketing officer for TerreStar. He says the company was interested in Vermont because the legislature and the Douglas Administration want to extend cell and broadband coverage to the entire state by 2010.
(Sobieski) “It was an interesting marriage of where the state of Vermont in the first e-state initiative and where TerreStar is trying to position their products in this product set.”
(Dillon) The state’s terrain and its notoriously spotty cell coverage is also a perfect challenge for the new technology.
(Sobieski) “The combination of the satellite and the terrestrial network I think is going to provide some unique features that the citizens of the state of Vermont can really benefit from.”
(Dillon) Lieutenant Governor Dubie says the satellite can focus hundreds of spot beams onto a particular area to improve communications. That means that cell coverage can be enhanced as needed during an emergency, such as an ice storm or a hurricane.
(Dubie) “It has 550 125-mile diameter spot beams. It can cover the continental United States and Canada with these spot beams. So you can take the spot beams and either have them diversify 550 lower bandwidth or you can focus the spot beams. So if you got a Katrina and you want to cover the entire state you can. So there’s a lot of possibilities that can happen.”
(Dillon) The pilot project is not costing the state anything. Dubie says the state and TerreStar will be looking for partners such as schools, hospitals and public safety organizations to sign up for the pilot.
The company doesn’t plan to market cell and broadband service directly to consumers. Instead, it will sell the technology to other providers.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.