Sydney service provider Multiemedia has launched VoIP over satellite broadband for customers in Australia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, parts of New Zealand and eventually even further afield.
Nigel Peterson, product manager for converged services at Multiemedia's satellite broadband operation NewSat, said no other companies so far were offering ways to connect far-flung Australian DSL users to "true" VoIP over two-way satellite broadband.
"As far as I'm aware, there's no one doing it. Optus can't do it and Telstra isn't either. The only thing close to this is done by Inmarsat, using satellite phones," Pederson said.
Telstra and Optus were doing satellite broadband, but only in one direction, he added.
Multiemedia's NewSat service uses the NSS-6 satellite to deliver broadband via satellite. It is capable of supporting video, voice and data communications over broadband internet.
Providing satellite broadband services to the Middle East offered big opportunities to Multiemedia. That part of the world already depended heavily on satellite services for its telecommunications, Peterson said.
Meanwhile, users in regional Australia were clamouring for such a service as standard telecommunications costs climbed. Demand was "huge", he said.
"Our call rates are quite competitive," Peterson said. "We have had calls to capital cities at 19 cents flat, to anywhere in Australia at 29 cents flat, fixed-to-mobile calls at 33 cents a minute, and a whole bunch of international deals."
Some SMB customers in regional areas had been paying $2000 to $3000 a month in telephony costs. Adopting VoIP had brought some down to $500 a month, Peterson said.
NewSat's satellite services were eventually expected to cover 60 percent of the globe, as Multiemedia beamed into more places. Also, the service could be hooked up to standard analogue telecommunications hardware, such as PABX, he said.
Customers could therefore access VoIP without having to invest in new equipment, he said.
Multiemedia planned to start bundling IP handsets with its service. "So customers don't have to buy them. Just buy a managed service with a handset," Peterson said. "At the moment, we're only delivering analogue and digital interfaces but we're very close to delivering IP handsets as well."
He conceded satellite broadband had latency issues. Latencies of 700 milliseconds were standard, and for most users - including gamers - they should not cause a problem, he said.
"There's really not that much difference," Peterson said. "But because the satellite is about 33,000 kilometres away and back again, you will get latency."
Satellite broadband is line of sight-dependent, so tall objects - such as mountains -- can get in the way of the signal. But in practice most Australians would find they could get reception, he said.
However, quality of service could be guaranteed, he said
Customers would also be able to connect to Multiemedia's satellite broadband service via their own DSL service provider. "That's something we're working towards in the next few months," Peterson said.
Market research firm IDC has forecast Australia's VoIP services market to hit $288 million by 2007, growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 62 percent. Some 61 percent of medium-sized and large companies here expect to have adopted IP telephony by 2007, according to a recent IDC survey of about 300 Australian firms.