ANCHORAGE - People living in rural Alaska may notice clearer long-distance telephone service and faster Internet access soon thanks to a $225 million satellite launched from South America.
Those are just two of the benefits that Anchorage-based General Communication Inc. or GCI expects from the Galaxy XR satellite.
The telecommunications satellite was launched Monday from the Arianespace Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
``Rural Alaska will have a good signal that will be there for at least the next 15 years,'' GCI spokesman David Morris said.
An earlier attempt at launching a satellite ended in a liftoff explosion at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1998.
GCI has $50 million invested in the Galaxy XR and hopes to start using it in the next two months. The company leases space on two satellites. One is approaching the end of its life, and GCI says it will be using the other satellite as backup.
Galaxy XR is better than the others because it is ``tailor-made for Alaska,'' Morris said. ``It's built to cover the entire state and has a stronger signal.''
The other advantage is that it doubles GCI's satellite-based telecommunications capacity, allowing the company to handle about 15,000 simultaneous voice or data calls, he said.
The added capacity will accommodate such emerging services as e-commerce, medicine and long-distance learning, he said.
``You as a customer in Nome many not be able to tell too much of an improvement,'' he said. ``But the Galaxy XR does allow more applications.''
The Galaxy XR is the company's next step in increasing capacity statewide. GCI last year began operating a $125 million undersea fiber-optic cable from Alaska to the Lower 48, which also increases the number of simultaneous calls possible from the Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau areas.
But satellites are used in rural Alaska because it's too expensive to lay fiber cable to most towns and villages.
GCI is a major long-distance telephone, Internet access and cable TV provider in Alaska. About 40,000 of GCI's more than 180,000 customers live in rural communities, Morris said.
Those in smaller villages probably won't have to wait long to connect to the Internet once the company switches to the Galaxy XR, he said. Rural and urban GCI customers might notice an improvement in voice quality when calling the Bush, he said.
The Galaxy XR also will serve GCI's urban customers as a backup if there is a problem with the undersea cable or if calls from Anchorage get bumped onto the satellite because the cable is overloaded.
GCI owns seven of the satellite's 48 transponders. Two California universities and the state of California are among the other users of the Galaxy XR.
GCI is not the only company upgrading its satellite service. AT&T Alascom plans next year to replace its 9-year-old satellite, whose coverage area includes Alaska.
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