So you’ve probably read that Wildblue Satellite uses ’spot beam technology’ so they can reuse transmission frequencies. I mentioned this to a friend who’s been in the IT industry almost since it started, and he commented, “Sounds like sales talk to me.” And you know, he’s right – it DOES sound like the kind of techie sales talk that makes people nod and go ‘uh huh’ while their eyes start glazing over. When I went looking for an easy way to explain spot beam technology and why Wildblue uses it, I ran into lots of talk about ‘footprints’ and ‘wide beams’ and ‘narrow beams’ that didn’t help make it any clearer. What I wanted was an explanation that my mother would understand. So here it is.
When a satellite sends out information, it uses a beam set to a certain frequency for its transmissions. Anything within range that’s tuned to that frequency will receive the information that’s being transmitted by the satellite. If you use one wide beam to cover the whole United States, then you can transmit the same information to every receiver in the United States set to that frequency at the same time – but you can only transmit one stream of information at a time. That’s great for a live television broadcast – but it’s not very efficient for internet transmissions.
Instead, Wildblue uses 31 spot beams that each cover a smaller part of the United States. That means that they can use the same frequency to transmit 31 different streams of information, each aimed in a slightly different direction. This concept is called ‘frequency reuse’ – because the satellite can reuse the same frequency multiple times for different things.
Frequency reuse has been around since the early 1990s, when the Italians launched Italsat, but Wildblue is the first company to offer broadband internet access that uses both Ka-band frequencies for transmitting and narrowly focused spot beams to allow the reuse of frequencies. The overall effect is that Wildblue can service as many as 20 times more customers on one satellite – which means that they can charge each customer less and still deliver speeds up to 28 times faster than dialup.