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WorldSpace to carry out trials soon

By Our Science Correspondent

BANGALORE, JULY 29. WorldSpace, a U.S. based company whose satellites beam digital audio broadcasts to developing countries, is planning to use its satellites' digital capabilities for some novel efforts in distance education. Some of the early trials are to be carried out in India.

WorldSpace now has two satellites in orbit, the AfriStar covering Africa and West Asia and AsiaStar covering South and East Asia. AmeriStar, for coverage of the Americas, is to be launched later this year. Each satellite has three beams, with each beam providing 50 channels of CD-quality stereo sound to an area of more than 10 million sq. km.

But as Dr. S. Rangarajan, Senior Vice-President at the WorldSpace headquarters in Washington D.C., points out the WorldSpace satellites can do much more than act as space-based radio stations. With their onboard digital capabilities, these satellites can pump up to 128 kilo bits per second of data through one channel. The data can be text, audio, video or a mix of these.

WorldSpace has launched a PC card (which would become available in India later this year) and the company plans to start disseminating high quality Internet content directly to the PC. Those with WorldSpace audio receivers can hook them to the computer and receive the content with an add-on adapter.

The trials which WorldSpace plans in India will attempt to harness these digital capabilities for distance education. Using software developed for WorldSpace by the Bangalore-based company, Sankya Systems, subscribers will almost feel as if they are in a classroom. Lectures or talks need not only be a disembodied voice droning on as with a radio. It will be possible to have visuals, such as slides, synchronised with the talk. The lecturers will be able to draw diagrams or write equations, as they would in a classroom, and these will promptly appear on the subscribers' computer screens. If listeners want to ask questions to the lecturer, the software has a provision for them to send the query over the Internet.

The WorldSpace Mixed Mode Delivery (MMD) services could economically cater to a wide range of distance education needs in a developing country, according to Dr. Rangarajan. It scores over television and radio because its high-speed digital signals allow flexibility in combining audio, visual and textual material. In developing countries where Internet is still to penetrate and bandwidth is often expensive, WorldSpace's digital data signals can be picked up anywhere in its coverage area with a relatively low-cost receiver.

There was considerable interest in WorldSpace's MMD capabilities for distance education, not just in India but in African countries also, Dr. Rangarajan told The Hindu. Even the World Bank wanted to see if WorldSpace could be used for training its field staff, he added.

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