Internet Security:

The Moonbeamer: Satellite Internet

By Dr. Seamus Phan

Imagine using your 802.11b-equipped notebook, and instead of connecting to a base station that is connected to your hub or switch terminating in a T1 line, you connect to the public Internet through a satellite instead.

With a device known as the Moonbeamer Satellite Router from Cislunar Networks (, about the size of a large PC tower, you can get "instant-on" network connectivity anywhere in the continental U.S. Whatıs more, this is no slow snail. The Moonbeamer provides an in-route date rate (from the terminal to the Internet) at 2 Mbps, faster than a T1 line. Already, the Cislunar Moonbeamer has been used for many transient broadband requirements, such as sports Webcasting, live music event Webcasting, and remote area Webcasting.

What's inside the Moonbeamer?

The Moonbeamer is bulky only because of the multitude of features built into the device. It has an IP satellite transceiver, router, caching proxy server, video-on-demand (VOD) server, Web server, e-mail server, 4-port 10/100 Base-T hub, BOOTP and DHCP features, Radius authentication, and an 802.11b Wireless Ethernet option. Unlike most modern appliances, the Moonbeamerıs operating firmware is in Flash memory, instead of a hard disk with moving parts. This ensures its reliability and longevity, as well as a relatively low maintenance. However, should you require the caching, Web, video and e-mail server functions, then a hard disk is required.

What makes Moonbeamer work?

In the US, satellite access is possible and available, due to the geographical constraints in certain locations where laying wires do not make economic or practical sense. Should you be in a neighborhood where you have leased satellite access and a Cislunar presence (with its Teleport station) is available, you can effectively provide a localized Internet access ³pool² for your neighbors, as long as they are close enough, using 802.11b technology. Even if they are a short distance away, "line-of-sight" focused antennae can still be used to share Internet connectivity via 802.11b, especially over open and unobstructed areas. Further, the Moonbeamer works with DHCP, so it can effectively become the router to the rest of the users running 802.11b.

Using the Moonbeamer, it is also possible to not just retrieve public Internet content and share the connectivity, it is also possible for individuals to stream customized content to downstream users. The Moonbeamer is equipped with a Web cache proxy with multicast peering, which means that you can very effectively store frequently retrieved content to be shared by your downstream users, without constantly connecting to the Internet. This caching mechanism is akin to Squid, the most popular public source Web caching proxy in use today, where it is meant for network access, unlike our client browserıs localized cache settings.

With the Moonbeamer, you can also run services, including SMTP and POP server access. Therefore, the Moonbeamer is ideal as an always-on server appliance that provides an Internet uplink via satellite, without the burden of laying cables, line provisioning, and relocation problems. If you have to move your office or home, you simply move the Moonbeamer Satellite Router, uproot all the rest of your equipment, resettle into new premises, and plug them all in. This provides the best of always-on broadband that is location-independent (but still within the US). In a more traditional setting, you would have to unplug all connectivity, maybe sign up for a new service provider (especially if you are relocating far away), and start configuration all over again.

Closer to the ground

Although not as hip as the Cislunar Moonbeamer, another two-way satellite Internet access services is available from US-based StarBand Communications (, which is a joint venture between Gilat, EchoStar Communications, and Microsoft. Available throughout the US, there are over 45,000 sites scalable to hundreds of thousands of sites, according to Gilat (, which develops, manufactures, sells, deploys and operates communication networks through VSAT technology. Gilat claims that they have shipped over 250,000 VSAT's worldwide, including China. Gilat has a customer support center in China, and provides all forms of satellite Internet access throughout China, including rural areas.

Gilat has also reached Southeast Asia, in Philippines, where Textron Corporation is a customer using Gilatıs Skystar Advantage, a two-way satellite communications equipment. Textron is a service provider which allows corporations and small businesses to use IP-optimized VSAT technology for interactive data and Web applications.

Upstream giants

One of the more prominent satellite operators in Asia is Thaicom, a service of Shin Satellite Public Company ( Shin Satellite operates three geo-stationary satellites, with the first Thaicom-1 launched in 1993, making it the first Asian operator to be in orbit. Its key competitor in Asia, SingTel ( only co-owns one satellite, known as ST-1 with ChungHwa Telecom, launched in 1998. However, SingTel asserts that it will be making investments in more satellite ventures in the future.

Shin Satelliteıs ProTrunk service, targeted at service providers, covers four continents, Asia, Australasia, Middle East, Africa and Europe, making it one of the widest coverage satellite services. ProTrunk uses remote terminal equipment at the service provider (ProTrunk distributor) to communicate with Shin Satelliteıs Thaicom satellites and nerve centers. Thaicom satellites manage AS number and IP addresses, alleviating the need for downstream distributors and service providers to manage this backbone activity.

WorldSpace ( is another interesting service, since its debut connected with a slew of consumer satellite radios made by the likes of Sony. You can listen to the likes of BBC Radio, MTV Asia, and many other localized Asian satellite radio content using these specialized satellite radio appliances.

Besides satellite radio content, WorldSpace also has direct media, datacasting and distance education services. Through your PC connected to a PC adaptor and WorldSpace receiver, you can view Web content in news, lifestyle, sports, health, entertainment and child areas. Its datacasting service is meant for large corporations that need to broadcast bandwidth-hungry content to remote field offices. Through the same satellite receiver technology, corporations can easily adapt PCs to be equipped with satellite-receiving capability.

So far, Singapore is one of the least active countries in this space, but countries such as Australia, China, India, Indonesia, and Japan, which are countries with vast geographical areas with pockets of population, are more active adopters of this technology.

Two-way satellite access in Asia

From the proliferation of service providers using satellites as primary or secondary backbone access technologies, it would appear that there would be consumer markets to be explored as well.

However, Asian backbone Internet service providers are too concerned with protecting their profits to be concerned with offering always-on, two-way consumer satellite Internet access anytime soon. The likes of Cislunar Moonbeamer, which liberates any small to medium enterprise, or even large enterprises with wireless, any-location, always-on networking, seems too much to fathom for Asian service providers, who obviously fear the immediate erosion of profits to their expensive access plans.

At the same time, bandwidth in Asia is still sorely lacking, with a logarithmic adoption of the Internet far exceeding the backbone aggregate bandwidth at the service providerıs end. T3 lines in Asia are rare even among large corporations and they are mainly confined to backbone services providers. Even for the latter, there is little redundancy and there have been several instances where connectivity to the US or some other part of the world has been severely cut off or reduced, due to breakages in undersea cables.

Thus, the potential for Internet connectivity in Asia is still tremendous, and we should be seeing more initiatives like Thailandıs Shin Satellite (with three satellites and more in the pipeline), that can help boost the aggregate bandwidth available in Asia. There are many backbone service providers with potential to be eventual owners or co-owners of more geo-stationary satellites to serve the Asia Pacific region. Until then, two-way satellite Internet access in Asia is still a pipe dream.

Dr. Seamus Phan is a world-renowned authority on the technical security aspects of the Internet. Dr. Phan serves the BWW Society as Founder and Chairman of the Internet Security Committee, which is designed and conceived to gather and share information on the latest computer and Internet threats, to provide immediate information on technology’s newest developments in the prevention of Internet-related security problems, and to increase and enhance all forms of Internet Security.

[ back to "Publications & Special Reports" ]
[ BWW Society Home Page ]