For the first time since introduction about 3 years ago, the highly touted iDirect Enterprise Satellite Internet platform is being challenged by two less expensive platforms: DirecWay's DW 7700 and ViaSat's Surfbeam ku band setup. But can these lower cost solutions actually deliver? Here is the early comparison:
1. Cost: The iDirect setup traditionally has cost in excess of $1,800 for equipment (1.2 meter dish and two watt transmitter) + installs ranging from $499-$799. There are a few companies offering it for less, but with fairly long terms on the service to make up the difference. The DirecWay 7700 is selling for about $1,600 plus install of $500 for the 1.2 meter dish setup with 2 watt transmitter. You can buy the DW 7000 Business Internet version for about $1,000 (attains the same speeds, but a few frills are missing) . The ViaSat ku band Surfbeam setup is selling for about $1,600 for the 1.2 meter dish and a 4 watt transmitter plus install of about $500, the lowest price of all offerings in this comparison given the more powerful transmitter is included. The 2 watt setup sells for less than $1,000 plus installation (provides up to 256 kbps uploads - so not evaluated).
2. Latency: The only vsat product on the market today that can compete with iDirect in this area is ka band Surfbeam (Wildblue Communications). The DirecWay setup is fairly close, but still running some 75 - 150 ms behind the iDirect figures which are pretty consistent in the 575-700 ms range. The Surfbeam ku setup hasn't been on the market long enough to compare; however, I should have a test system very soon and will post results. Since it uses the same modem as the ka band Wildblue setup, it might prove to be a worthy competitor in this area.
3. Shared Bandwidth: This is where things become very confusing for most Business Grade vsat buyers. The least expensive monthly service options are "shared bandwidth", which for all but the U.S. Government and giant corporations, is all that is realistic to talk about. Dedicated bandwidth is extremely expensive and very few opt for it. The problem with shared bandwidth is not all shared bandwidth is created equal! This is the most convoluted and often misrepresented area of the satellite internet industry. Most satellite providers are very reluctant to tell you exactly how many folks you are sharing the bandwidth with. It's called the contention ratio or contention rate and it's crucial to how well your satellite service will perform. Most experts regard anything below 20-1 as true enterprise grade shared bandwidth; however, with the efficiencies that have resulted from both DirecWay's new 7000 series platform with DVB S2 technology and the DOCSIS platform utilized in ViaSat's Surfbeam ku modem, some are saying that contention ratios up to 60-1 will work competitively with the iDirect setup running at a 20-1 rate.
Tthe iDirect platform needs the lowest contention ratios to perform competitively with other setup's from my experience. This is where the competition really begins for iDirect...it only works great when lot's of bandwidth is available...and that can get expensive. There are several companies trying to push the limits of contention ratio out there right now with the iDirect setup and the customers are screaming about slow speeds and high latency. The DirecWay DW 7700 has the most concurrent TCP/IP sessions to the internet than the other packages in this comparison. The DirecWay connection will not "degrade" as fast as strictly IP type connections, so more users can be on the net simultaneously...a nice advantage for DirecWay. To further understand this complicated area of satellite internet, call a professional vsat sales engineer with a reputable company.
4. Monthly Cost: Since we are limiting this discussion to shared bandwidth, I will compare the products using the most popular speed requested: 2000 kbps download and 512 kbps upload speeds.
A. iDirect: The least expensive monthly service with acceptable contention ratio I'm aware of runs $599 per month with no usage limitation. There are many "low ballers" out there, but you are strictly limited in the amount of usage per month or the costs literally soar. One package is $350 per mo, but has a limit of 3 GB per mo. total usage and .09 cost per MB thereafter.
B. DirecWay Business Internet: $199 per month. There is a 1250 MB threshold (FAP)- so you are slowed down if you do a very large amount of downloading in a short period.
C. Surfbeam ku band: 3000/512 is the closest plan I could find and it runs $350 per month. It has no limitation on usage per month at this time.
5. VPN & VOIP: Since the iDirect setup has the lowest latency of all systems tested, it will handle IPsec vpn the best. The Surfbeam ku setup might be equal when thoroughly tested, and it's a pretty safe bet that the DirecWay 7700/7000 series will come in third due to higher latency, although better by far than anything they have offered in the past. Keep in mind that no satellite internet setup will do a great job at an IPsec vpn tunnel. Expect 50-70% degradation.
The folks needing Voice over IP will get very good results over a iDirect or Surfbeam setup (by satellite internet standards) and will not be able to use DirecWay's setup for voip at this time.
Business Internet has improved over the last three years for those who can't get terrestrial service, but it has limitations that can still provide plenty of frustration for users. Which setup you choose will depend a great deal on your needs and budget....to get straight answers and the right fit for your company, call a professional who is not "married" to any of the providers.
Randy Scott has been involved in the bi-directional satellite internet industry from it's beginning as a Sr. Sales Engineer, consultant and business owner. Randy is the founder of VSAT U.S., a consulting and sales organization, representing the most prestigious satellite internet providers in the America's. For more information visit http://www.vsatus.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org