Burning Man: Internet in the desert
September 8, 1999
by Ann Harrison
BLACK ROCK CITY, Nev. (IDG) -- The annual Burning Man festival drew 18,000 artists, pyrotechnic enthusiasts and technological visionaries to a week-long rendezvous 120 miles north of Reno, Nev., last week. The sprawling collection of art camps, known as Black Rock City, is located on the playa, a vast stretch of high desert far from telephone lines and cell-phone service.
Despite the remote location, revelers are sharing their adventure with the world thanks to a satellite Internet connection provided by San Diego start-up firm Tachyon Inc., Tachyon, founded in 1997, dispatched an RV of technicians to the festival, where they set up an Internet link off a two-satellite system called a Tachyon Access Point. The signal beams to an orbiting geosynchronous satellite and then back down to a gateway site at the company's headquarters. From there, it's shot over to Concentric, a San Jose, Calif.-based tier-one Internet service provider.
Tachyon sales engineer Gary Echo said the Burning Man team is supporting a two-way T1 connection. Satellite links are a more convenient and faster way for new businesses to establish Internet connectivity, he argued. "It can be four to five months to get a land line installed, and some businesses can't wait four to five months for the slow grind of the phone company to install them," Echo said.
Echo said the company, which received $30 million in venture-capital funding in January, will formally launch its satellite connectivity product in October targeting top-tier Internet service providers. Tachyon plans to start by targeting Internet service providers in Europe and North America and expand worldwide by the end of 2001. The cost of connection time would depend on bandwidth and the Internet service provider's pricing structure, said Echo.
But many Internet service providers are eager to expand their services to offer satellite connectivity, said Mike Liebhold, senior vice president of business development.
According to Echo, the Burning Man installation is a fine opportunity to test the system in a demanding environment. He said his team, together with volunteer engineers John Gilmore and Clif Cox, set up a wireless Ethernet at Black Rock City to connect ITVnet Inc., a Webcasting company based in Los Angeles. It has also provided connectivity for the Black Rock Gazette, a daily paper published at Burning Man. A LAN is also being set up to connect several theme camps where participants can collect their e-mail. A number of campers have already used the system to mail their friends for warm clothes and additional camp supplies. "It's a cool thing, there are a lot of people on the ground who can appreciate this," Echo said.
William Mutual, president and chairman of ITV.net, said the company has been posting video vignettes to its Web site (link below) and planned to broadcast live from the playa via satellite. ITV.net, which has Web-cast events such as the Grammy, Tony and Emmy awards, the Olympics and stadium concerts, said it has been searching for a solution such as Tachyons.
"We have provided live Web casts from the top of the Himalayas to the bottom of the ocean and have been searching for a remote high-bandwidth delivery mechanism. Tachyon finally provides us with a long-awaited solution," Mutual said. "This is a transport mechanism we plan to use on a regular basis.'"
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