Does Satellite Technology Have a Place In The Future of Distance Learning?

April 24, 2001

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — National Technological University and PBS The Business & Technology Network have been known for many years for their superlative distance learning courses delivered via satellite. When the two merged their operations in 1999, one critical challenge was to expand into the brave new world of e-learning.

In the process of making that transformation, a fascinating technological opportunity has emerged for them — using their private satellite network as a “satellite backbone around the Internet.”

Suddenly, owning your own digital satellite network adds new competitive strength. The private satellite network owned by Stratys Learning Solutions, the corporate umbrella company for NTU and PBS The Business & Technology Network, can be used to bypass many of the capacity constraints involving the Internet.

Getting high-quality video to the computer desktop from remote locations usually results in the recipient looking at images about the size of a Polaroid snapshot. A digital satellite network lets you “leapfrog” that problem and send broadband video directly to receive locations that have downlink equipment. On the receiving end, small satellite receive antennas can route the digital signal into processing equipment that delivers full- screen, high-bandwidth video to any and all desktop computers on the network. (Satellite receiving equipment can cost as little as a laptop computer.)

“Not only can we get great video training and academic courses to the desktop,” said Patrick Partridge, Vice President of Marketing for NTU and PBS The Business & Technology Network, “we can also get around computer firewall problems.” Because of computer firewall constraints, many large corporations won’t allow employees to receive video signals over the Internet. Partridge said that their satellite signals work with network storage and routing equipment from Cisco Systems and other network vendors. “Our ongoing work with Cisco puts us at the forefront of broadband training solutions,” he noted.

NTU and PBS The Business & Technology Network have a lot at stake. NTU, a non-profit university, delivers over 1,300 different courses each year from 53 U.S. universities, the largest distance-learning consortium in the world. NTU now offers 19 Master’s Degree programs in engineering, information technology, and management. Founded in 1984, NTU is fully accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association, which also accredits institutions such as Northwestern University and the universities of Illinois, Colorado and Michigan. The NTU consortium includes technical education powerhouses such as MIT, Georgia Tech, University of California Berkeley, Columbia University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

‘PBS The Business & Technology Network each year offers over 400 professional development programs in business and management, information technology, and engineering and manufacturing. Many feature the leading gurus in leadership andchange management, including such “stars” as Tom Peters, James Champy, Eli Goldratt, Spencer Johnson, and Stephen Covey.

Both NTU and PBS The Business & Technology Network have been busy developing courses that can be delivered over the Internet on demand, much like other e-learning companies. Combined, well over 150 courses are available via the Web, and the number grows each week. However, their private digital satellite network creates a unique distribution system that will take them well into the 21st century.

“We’ve been both a content and technology leader for a long time,” Partridge said. “We plan to stay that way.”