It is not well known that the backbone of the internet contains a series of satellite links, and that these links could also be the reason the internet is being hindered in its development.
The growth of the internet in the late 1990s was a boom time for satellite service providers. The need for fast connections from ISPs to backbone nodes suited the point-to-point capability of satellite, particularly in non metropolitan areas and across borders.
By mid-2001 the equivalent of 500 satellite transponders – each with about 18Gbits per second of capacity – was being carried by satellites with main usage in the US and Europe. This was the peak in these regions, with the development of the terrestrial infrastructure causing a decline in satellite connection.
However, satellite backbone connectivity is still popular in the Middle East, Far East and Africa.
Should we care? The problem is that during the building phase in Europe and the US, the round-trip delay of 256 milliseconds to the satellite was lost in larger delays elsewhere in the network.
However, growing use of voice over IP may expose this problem. In terrestrial communications, international routing is limited to a single satellite hop, as the delay associated with a double hop makes it difficult for the user.
But VoIP carries no such guarantee. So if your network extends to the Far East or Africa, service can be degraded.
There are other issues of legacy internet satellite connections too. The next generation of internet protocols, commonly referred to as IPv6 and being deployed in Europe and the Far East, will suffer even more when used through a satellite link.
IPv6 was designed for terrestrial networks and experiments suggest that performance through a satellite link is worse than existing networking protocols.
Much attention has been given to the use of satellites to access the internet, particularly in rural areas. These may be the same areas that satellite is used in the backbone, which would compound the issues.
It may be crying wolf, but there may be a legacy problem hiding in the network. It would not be the first time.
What do you think?
Has your access to the internet been affected by poor satellite links? Tell us in an e-mail >> ComputerWeekly.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.
Andrew Davies is business development director at ESYS