Telstra, Gilat team up to teach on air

Telstra has teamed with Israeli interactive learning solutions provider Gilat Communications to deliver live distance communication services to outback and corporate Australia.

The SkyConnect Tutor service will target correspondence students of all ages and the enterprise. The system will beam live lessons and training, delivering voice, audio and data teleconferencing services to the bush and to boardrooms.

SkyConnect Tutor also features on-screen, two-way electronic whiteboarding.

Telstra will use an American satellite from Pan-Am Sat 2 to multicast the service across Australia and New Zealand. The carrier will provide the content delivery network to users, with plans to sell SkyConnect Tutor to the Asia-Pacific, said Greg Vagias, Telstra's product manager for SkyConnect Tutor.

Under the agreement, Gilat Communications will develop live, instructor-led training courseware and web-based authoring tools.

The service will be powered by an Interactive Management System (IMS). This platform includes audio mixers, web servers, a Windows NT OS, multi-vendor databases and hardware to support multicasting.

Vagias believes the system will prove popular in the business sector. He said there was steady demand for "business television" communication in corporate Australia, particularly from finance, IT and hospitality companies. "We will use this as a tool to push content to sites, for training announcements, and to communicate to staff, right down to the desktop," said Vagias.

"It is a very simple, easy-to-use, intuitive tool. We think we'll do well," he added.

"Schools and corporates love it," according to John Allsop, sales manager of Gilat Communications Australia. "People actually get a much higher learning level than non-interactive learning when the instructor is there on the screen."While Vagias regards satellite learning solutions a "niche" business, they are also lucrative education solutions, he claimed, "pulling through" a range of revenue streams. "You're converging multiple technologies here - data, video, internet service. You could just as easily sit in front of the TV, but two-way interactivity is the key," he said.

However, Vagias and Allsop admitted that pricing was "not cheap". Packages vary for businesses, schools and end users depending on the bandwidth level they choose, with bandwidth available from 0.5 to 10 megabytes. SkyConnect Tutor is priced at around $1000 per annum per site.

Monash University will resell the service direct to students, according to Vagias. Telstra is also in discussion with banks such as National Australia Bank to resell packages direct to customers. The carrier is considering offering content via broadband infrastructure.