|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2009|
|Topic:||Convergence – beyond limits|
|Author:||Pierre Jean Beylier|
Pierre Jean Beylier is the CEO of SpeedCast a satellite service provider in Asia , servicing enterprise and governments‘ telecommunications needs and providing innovative digital media services to operators in over 30 countries. He worked previously at Rhodia (ex Rhone-Poulenc), where he held successive Sales & Marketing positions spearheading global strategy initiatives. Mr Beylier also worked for Black & Decker in consumer marketing. Pierre-Jean Beylier holds a MBA from the University of Southern California and the Lyon School of Management in France.
Convergence of all sorts, from networks to devices to applications, is bringing a variety of important new services to people and businesses throughout the world. Still, there are areas where most forms of modern communications cannot economically reach. Satellites are increasingly used to bring services to otherwise unreachable areas on land and at sea. Satellite delivered broadband communications are bringing voice, data and video applications to underserved – often totally unserved – communities, to businesses and to ships at sea.
With the rise of IP networks, convergence has become a reality. Transmitting voice, data and video on the same network is enabling productivity gains, faster decision making, and enhanced employee empowerment. However, some will certainly challenge the idea that convergence is already a reality. Assume for illustration’s sake that convergence requires an advanced fixed line infrastructure. As Table 1 shows, fixed line penetration in emerging Asian countries is much too limited to achieve mass-market convergence with existing fixed line networks. Given the limited fixed line infrastructure, can convergence be realized over wireless networks? With 1.4 billion mobile subscribers in Asia, the mobile phone is almost ubiquitous and the wireless infrastructure is far greater than fixed line infrastructure in the region’s emerging markets. We have all used our mobile phone for voice or limited data (SMS). The rise of next generation networks capable of multi Mbps broadband speeds is certain to boost mobile broadband usage and enable extensive data applications on handsets or other mobile devices. More than 55 million people in 91 countries had mobile broadband services by the end of September and that number should soon reach 67 million according to research firm Wireless Intelligence. Voice and data are growing, but what of mobile video? Mobile TV has been a leitmotiv for many vendors for years, but mobile TV has yet to deliver on its promises and video calling has been limited. The evolution of 3G networks into 3.5 and 4G technologies will make convergence a reality and improve the video experience. In 2009, many new mobile TV services in Asia on 3G+ cellular networks and 2010 should see an increased penetration of broadcast mobile TV services, for which South Korea and Japan are already leading the way. However, the pace of mobile TV growth will depend on the ability of stakeholders to generate economies of scale. In order to create affordable services, network infrastructure sharing is likely to increase after a few market leaders paved the way. Providing centrally hosted video platforms as shown in Diagram 1, and thus enabling economies of scale, can only be achieved in Asia by using satellite due to the costly inter country fibre connectivity, especially in South East Asia and South Asia. Satellite will play a key role in spreading mobile TV in Asia and thus making convergence on handheld devices a reality. Convergence on handsets, however, requires much more than satellite as an enabler. The handset manufacturers are designing convergent devices, but improved user interfaces and the navigation via the use of client-based technologies is often needed. Companies developing on-device portals and other multi-application management tools are thriving to make this converging experience a smooth and fun one. Below are examples of user interfaces that achieve a smooth and attractive video-data-voice user experience. Let us look at the challenges faced by some industries and governments in realizing convergence. The bridging of the digital divide is a concrete example of using convergence to bring services to rural masses. Asian governments rely extensively on satellite to provide voice communications, Internet access, video entertainment and advertising to rural communities. The financial viability of such services is questionable in the short term and government subsidies via Universal Service Obligations funds have been used to bring converged services to rural areas. The emergence of a viable long-term business model will likely depend on the satellite industry’s ability to keep reducing the costs of satellite services through technological breakthroughs and manufacturing efficiencies. The recent tender for 40 thousand rural VSATs in Indonesia, showed the costs of equipment and services have decreased significantly – to the point where they are now secondary to the costs associated with installation and maintenance in rural locations. VSAT is, more than ever, the natural technology to achieve convergence beyond the limits of our cities. Satellites, VSATs in particular, have been contributing to new convergent applications in the maritime industry, which has been starved for effective telecommunications; these new means of communications have been changing the way this industry views the future. There are two main reasons behind the maritime industry’s hunt for better telecommunications. First, the shortage of experienced crewmembers makes it difficult to retain crews. In addition, most of the younger crewmembers are accustomed to using broadband Internet access – the de facto standard on land. To attract new talents to work in the remoteness of the open seas, broadband connectivity, video entertainment and voice services is essential. This improves the work environment and increases the likelihood of attracting and retaining the crewmembers. Second, maritime companies see their vessels as moving offices – as extensions of their land based operations. Maritime companies are keen to give their onboard staff full access to the same systems and services used at land offices – ERP, training, medical services, video-surveillance and the like, in order to fully integrate their operations and applications on land and sea. The productivity gains resulting from an always-on connected office at sea are obvious. Global Ku-band maritime VSAT services are at the forefront of enabling converged data, voice and video applications for the maritime and offshore industries. Not so long ago, few would have imagined the advantages that convergence and satellite technologies bring to the shipping industry. Continuous advances in satellite technology and service provider creativity have made possible these significant and multifaceted advances. For the last 40 years, the satellite industry has worked to cover as much land and as little water as possible; now, however, they are planning to launch satellites covering oceans to offer next generation telecommunications services to vessels. Furthermore, the latest generation of satellite-based services are moving some people from the ship to the shore. Oil and gas survey vessels and maintenance vessels for undersea pipes can now cost-effectively transmit large volumes of data and live video to shore-based analysts and experts who previously had to be on board the vessels. Convergence is also changing life onboard the vessels. Earlier this year, on a vessel from Europe to Japan, a significant milestone was achieved – the first successful trial of seamless and affordable one Mbps broadband service using a 1m Ku-band antenna. Five satellites were used and the onboard satellite dish automatically changed satellites to maintain communications; no human intervention was necessary. The trial was successful far beyond expectations. With 15GB of average daily download for a fixed fee amounting to a few thousand US dollars per month – usage would have cost considerably more using other services at latest publicly available tariffs- the crew extensively used email, Skype and Skype video to connect with loved ones. Within weeks, they were all addicted to using data, voice and video communications, just as we are all addicted to our broadband connections at home and at work. The satellite connection made telemedicine services available to crewmembers; persuading some hospitals to create new services to cater to the needs of the world’s 80 thousand shipping and services vessels. Constant ship tracking lets shippers optimise routes to minimize fuel consumption. RFID technology lets shippers monitor valuable cargo onboard. In addition, other online applications are being imposed by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation), such as Long Range Id & Tracking (LRIT) due to the exceptional need for security at sea. These measures are mandatory on all vessels over 300 gross tonnage and must be implemented by the end of 2008. Another measure to be implemented by 2012 calls for the mandatory installation of the Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) for all vessels over 500 gross tonnage. Video surveillance gives birth to on-shore security, and lets shipping company headquarters see what is happening at all times on all their vessels thanks to day/night cameras. The development of intelligent sensor systems will significantly improve accident prevention and maintenance by transmitting information such as engine vibration, engine room temperature and the like via satellite on a real time basis to a shore-based monitoring centre. Last but not least, video training on the ships will contribute to improve safety and productivity. Convergent applications for ships made possible by new generation satellite services is still in its infancy, nevertheless, they promise to change the way the maritime industry operates and will improve the work environment for hundreds of thousands of crew members, making working onboard ships a more enjoyable experience. Through the use of shared platforms and direct broadcast to the phone, in Asia’s vast rural areas or onboard vessels, satellite telecommunications are enabling converged applications where other forms of communications do not reach. On the move convergence is becoming a reality, paving the way for a wide range of new applications and innovations in the IT industry.