|Issue:||Latin America 2006|
|Topic:||IP via satellite|
Eduardo Aspesi is the President of Hispamar Satélites. He came to Hispamar from the Telemar Group, where he implemented its retail unit. Previously, he directed the strategic and financial planning of the RBS Group (Radio, TV and Newspapers) and was the General Director of RBS Direct. He served as the Director of Marketing and other businesses at Net Sul, a cable TV operator, until the company was sold. Eduardo Aspesi is an Economist, Business Administrator; he completed his post-graduate studies in Finances, Marketing and Strategic Management at INSEAD.
IP via satellite – over VSAT – is quickly becoming a cost-effective option for broadband access for business, government and even personal use in remote areas. The open DVB-RCS standard, Digital Video Broadcast-Return Channel Satellite, has greatly reduced costs and simplified equipment interoperability issues. In Brazil, VSAT/IP is often used for corporate communications, in mobile environments, for distance learning and even video-surveillance. IP via satellite holds great promise for the 50 per cent of Brazil’s municipalities that do not yet have broadband access.
A new sort of IP-based, Internet Protocol-based, businesses using VSAT, very small aperture terminal, technology is revolutionizing the IP via satellite business. The open DVB-RCS standard, Digital Video Broadcast-Return Channel Satellite, is changing the traditional model for Internet connections that used one VSAT connection for every three or four computers, so that VSATs are now used as IP services platforms. Under the new scheme, VSAT is handling the traffic for various pioneering projects that provide access to wide band Internet connectivity for virtual private networks, VoIP and even IP-based mobile telephony. In Brazil, a wide range of services based upon IP, beyond the usual voice and Internet accesses, is available. There are now specialized applications for corporate needs, education at a distance, sea transport and residential use, among many others. VSAT/IP is frequently used in mobile environments, such as ships, boats and road vehicles. Since the technology is constantly evolving, what makes the difference in this market, and contributes to the consolidation of the new model, is the know-how of companies that operate these technologies. This innovative business model is already in use in Brazil and other countries of Latin America and has been welcomed by the market. Because of the great, structural, connectivity deficit in Latin America, this is one of the most dynamic regions of the world for IP services. To deal with regional needs, the companies of the satellite communications sector must use creativity and inventiveness and constantly experiment with new solutions in order to meet the needs of a constantly more demanding market with highly specific needs. Although it is a growing market with excellent companies offering their services, the satellite segment is still quite focused on the traditional services that have already reached throughout Brazil – mainly corporate Internet access. Still, there is a great opportunity to expand in market niches. Regarding regional reach, the North and Northeast of Brazil are areas that basically do not have much satellite service support. It is exactly in these regions, however, that we have the greatest deficit in telecommunications; this is what makes them a great market for this type of technology. Even in these regions, which are the least economically developed, the cost/benefit relationship of IP services via satellite is still worthwhile; it is just necessary to equate carefully the users’ needs to the products offered. The need to channel the products to each segment according to their needs is critical. Developed countries, for the most part, demand products that are more sophisticated; developing countries demand simpler – and cheaper – products. Although there are a number of potential markets for satellite services, including for video, IPTV and IP telephony, there are no products, as of yet, to support the needs of these markets. IP technology via satellite opens up the possibility of getting into new niches, such as the virtual education – distance learning – segment, for example. This area is quite recent, but has great growth potential in many parts of the world. The companies that currently lead in these new niches are the ones that have sufficient available bandwidth to meet the demand. To differentiate themselves, satellite IP service suppliers have added value to existing technology by establishing partnerships with software development companies. In the case of virtual education, they have developed programmes to manage virtual classes that enable total, controlled interactivity between students and teachers. We talk more and more about more specific, less generic, solutions to our users’ needs; although many businesses might need a solution for the same problem, each company wants a solution tailored to its own internal requirements. The service provider’s task – not necessarily the satellite operator’s – is to develop a portfolio of robust products that can be readily adapted to deal with the client’s demands for manageable input to his own systems. DVB-RCS sets the standards for equipment compatibility. By following this standard, equipment from any manufacturer will function with the equipment of any other. This makes the consolidation of this new IP via satellite businesses model possible. The certification of the companies that produce the DVB-RCS equipment, as well as certification by the Dutch institution Satlabs, guarantees that any certified equipment will work together with the equipment of any other manufacturer that is also certified. This has brought free choice to the market, increased competition among equipment suppliers, reduced equipment prices and decreased market entry barriers. Today, several American, European and Iranian companies are homologated. There has been a great leap in the traditional VSAT business model. The most important progress made by the IP via satellite segment, however, is seen in the new IP services now available rather than in the VSAT technology itself. Now that we can transmit video via IP, for example, the technology automatically fosters the development of new services and new business models. The changes in this market are continuous and dynamic. Each new solution that technology brings, especially for connectivity, opens the doors to new market niches. Economics, of course, plays a major role in market development. In the USA, for example, there is a growing demand for really cheap solutions; these would, undoubtedly, promote massive market growth. Another promising possibility is to develop specialised, cost effective, technology to meet the needs of specific market segments, such as for global coverage for commercial planes, for ships and mobile environments. We might even be able, one day, to talk about VoIP via satellite for cars. Another important opportunity is the corporate segment where companies require safety and redundancy for their communications and need to work with more than one link. The back-ups in these cases are often via satellite. Businesses also have many other functional requirements that can be well served by IP via satellite, such as videoconferencing, voice and image communication to remote branches, tele-control and video-surveillance. It is also possible to use IP connectivity via satellite to meet the needs of governments. For example, in some countries of Latin America where public security is a serious issue, a great many robberies take place within the public transport systems. Aiming to reduce this, some governments have, as a security measure, adopted the precaution of filming passengers at bus stops with VHS cameras, recording all the people who embark on public transport. Today, this procedure requires recording in loco and then transporting the tapes to a production centre before one can begin to examine the material. With IP via satellite technology, it would be possible to use an IP camera – a webcam – with a satellite connection to the security system. This would enable real time data transmission and monitoring – a much more efficient and secure way of dealing with a critical problem. At present, the use of IP via satellite is of interest not only to telecommunication operators that choose this solution to offer state-of- the-art services or Internet service providers, ISP, located in remote places. IP via satellite is also of great interest to VoIP and cable TV companies that provide Internet access, and to audiovisual content providers interested in distributing video over IP. As we broaden the range of services available over IP via satellite, the clients’ profiles have changed as a result. We see this especially in large countries where there are many remote regions that are not served by traditional telecommunications networks. At the start, such clients tend to request no more than the basic, standard services, such as Internet access. In time, however, they become more demanding, just as in the cities. In cities, not so long ago, dial-up Internet access was the rule; today, users are increasingly demanding faster broadband connections; now rural areas are undergoing the same sort of evolution and are beginning to make demands that go beyond a simple increase in connection. New signal distribution technologies, such as WiFi and WiMAX, will play a very important role in facing the challenge of bringing access in the most effective way possible to ever more distant regions. Because these new technologies cost substantially less than the traditional alternatives, they hold out hope for the digital inclusion of a great number of otherwise economically un-reachable people. Over 50 per cent of Brazil’s 15,000 Brazilian municipalities have no broadband access. Given the continuing reductions in the cost of IP via satellite, IP via satellite is becoming an increasingly viable way to provide broadband access needed to connect the country’s remotest regions with the rest of the world. In this sort of scenario, hybrid networks, which combine various technologies that communicate among themselves, are commonly used to provide low cost access to a variety of locations under difficult and varying conditions. Inclusion programmes that combine a variety of different technologies are needed to meet the differing needs of cities of all kinds and sizes. The satellite is a vital part of the digital inclusion solution, not only in Brazil but in all countries of Latin America.