For years satellites were the workhorses of international
communications: they carried virtually all intercontinental
calls and TV programmes. On most of those high-traffic routes
they've been displaced by optical fibre and satellites have
taken on a new role, delivering TV channels direct to viewers'
But the universal demand for broadband is giving satellite
operators a new market opportunity - something that many
telecommunications companies are now learning about.
As those in urban areas are getting access to faster and
faster speeds service providers are facing demands from rural
communities to provide something comparable. Satellites can
provide a route, says Patrick Brant, the president of satellite
operator Loral Skynet.
He spoke at a Global Telecoms Business conference in the
middle of 2006 and it was intriguing to hear senior executives
from a number of operators explore his ideas as a potential
solution to a long problem.
"Satellites provide an opportunity to extend terrestrial
networks," says Brant. "Satellite become an extender or
extensions to their current terrestrial networks." He is
suggesting a mixture of satellites for the backhaul to a base
station at the centre of small communities, with fixed wireless
access to local subscribers.
Mobile phone networks commonly use satellite distribution in
emerging markets where there is an inadequate terrestrial
backhaul network. "If you have a carrier with a vast territory
to cover a satellite can be used to extend or back up the
An operator can use the satellite for the connections as the
network is being built. When the fibre reaches the tower, "you
can seamlessly switch the backhaul", says Brant.
Like many in the industry, he is an inveterate enthusiast
about satellites. He's worked in the business for many years.
He served as COO of Loral CyberStar, Loral's former data
services company, and helped to integrate CyberStar with Skynet
|The first Telstar satellite
was launched in 1961.
Loral Skynet plans to launch the huge
Telstar 11N in early 2008
The merged company, Loral Skynet, has a bit of unrivalled
heritage: the name Telstar. The brand dates back more than 40
years, to when the old AT&T proposed a network of 50-120
active satellites orbiting about 10,000 kilometres above the
Earth. The world's first active telecommunications satellite,
Telstar 1, was launched on July 10 1962.
Today Loral Skynet's Telstar satellites orbit at the
conventional geostationary altitude of 35,700 kilometres above
the equator. The next in the series, Telstar 11N, is due for
launch in 2008.
Telstar 10 is already in orbit, providing video services in
Asia: "About 80 million people every day are viewing content on
Telstar 10 from China to east Africa and Korea to almost
Australia," says Brant.
And he sees an opportunity emerging over the next few years
as telcos build out IPTV services, especially once they face
the demand for high-definition channels. "Satellite will be
able to provide content to the head ends," says Brant. With
HDTV and with IP platforms networks will be able to serve
mobile TV terminals too, he says.
Are carriers doing this already. "I can't say, because it's
a competitive advantage for the early adopters. They're in test
right now." Watch out in the first quarter of 2007, he says:
"There'll be a big splash. The testing will be over and
there'll be introductions next year."
Satellites provide "instant bandwidth availability" to
broadband IP networks, he adds. "You can have speeds up to 45
megabits a second. Satellite has a vast capability to provide
broadband capacity and you don't have to buy more and more
fibre. It will cost a little more until you get scale."
Loral Skynet was "the first company to provide digital IP
services by satellite", says Brant, "and we were the first to
connect with the internet by satellite. Our network allows
customers in any part of the globe to connect data or video or
voice with any part of the world." GTB