Dish Net Gets Personal With Geocast Data Deal


Direct-broadcast satellite provider EchoStar Communications Corp. said it will use Geocast Network Systems Inc.'s digital broadcasting technology to offer "personalized" broadband services to its Dish Network satellite-television customers. The companies did not provide financial details.

EchoStar said it would begin deploying Geocast's broadband platform, designed to alleviate some of the pressure involved in downloading large data files over the Internet, to Dish customers by the third quarter of next year. Dish claims more than 4.3 million subscribers at present.

The DBS operator said it would use Geocast to complement its forthcoming high-speed, two-way data offerings. EchoStar expects to launch such service via alliances with Starband Communications Inc. (formerly Gilat-to-Home) perhaps as early as next month, and with WildBlue Communications (formerly iSKY) in approximately 12 months.

Starband is also developing a service similar to Geocast's. EchoStar will look at its available bandwidth before making any additional moves in the data-broadcasting sphere, senior vice president Mark Jackson said.

EchoStar's arrangement with Menlo, Calif.-based Geocast is non-exclusive, the companies said.

Geocast's part of the deal involves delivering content to PC users at speeds as high as 12 megabits per second by tapping dedicated bandwidth on one of EchoStar's primary direct-broadcast satellites, the companies said.

Those speeds will enable Geocast to store video content and stream it at 30 frames per second, the company noted.

Geocast will take "the traditional Internet experience to a whole new level," EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen said in a press release.

The deal is Geocast's most significant so far, giving it an instant national footprint.

The company is currently working on broadband platforms for cable, satellite and digital-terrestrial operators designed to circumvent the "congested" public Internet and offer personalized content and downloadable software and music files. It has yet to announce any partnerships with cable or digital-terrestrial operators.

Geocast chairman Joe Horowitz declined to elaborate on the progress of commercial-deployment talks with other service providers.

"We're in trials," he said, expressing confidence the company would find distribution via cable systems. "Our plan as a company is agnostic for broadcast delivery that's digital."

EchoStar customers won't have to purchase a separate dish to receive the Geocast service, Horowitz said.

"EchoStar is moving to the '500' dish, so every installation of that dish is also an opportunity for us," he said. "With every new customer, EchoStar will have a terrific opportunity to upsell them to the Geocast service."

At the heart of Geocast's platform is the "GeoBox," a 40-gibabyte server that connects to PCs via a universal serial bus port and stores content for on-demand retrieval. That will provide enough storage for approximately 40 full-length feature films, 1,800 two-minute video clips or 6,600 popular MP3 audio files, Geocast said.

In addition to providing data storage, Geocast's box also incorporates "intelligent" elements that filter and manage content based on user preferences.

How EchoStar customers would pay for the service is still up in the air.

"We're testing a number of different scenarios," Horowitz said. "There are different ways we can deal with the cost of the Geobox for the consumer.

"Between now and when we launch the service, we're going to test a number of different value propositions for the consumer to make sure that we get it right."

Options under discussion include selling the box to customers outright or employing a subscription model, he said.

EchoStar could also opt to integrate the GeoBox into one of the satellite provider's set-top boxes, DBS company spokesman Mark Lumpkin said.

Geocast won't store types of content that the Internet can already handle without much of a problem, such as electronic mail and other point-to-point applications, but it will house locally and nationally sourced information, refreshing it as required.

"In the broadband delivery of Internet services, whether it's by cable or satellite, you're dealing with a unicast kind of service [in which] each customer makes requests for information," Horowitz said. "Geocast, which creates a point-to-multipoint architecture, delivers data to the entire user base no matter how large it gets."

That architecture can save broadband service providers valuable bandwidth for larger files and more bandwidth-intensive applications such as gaming or audio and video streaming, he added.

Geocast, whose partners include Liberty Media Corp., Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., A.H. Belo Corp., Royal Philips Electronics NV and Thomson Multimedia, announced in May that it had successfully completed its first field trial of the Geocast service. For the trial, Geocast offered the service to "friendlies" using a portion of the digital spectrum of San Jose, Calif., ABC affiliate KNTV-DT.