|Asia-Pacific IV 2001
|Reaching Beyond Fixed-Link Networks: How Satellite Can Expand Development
|Eui K. Koh
|of New Skies Satellites N.V., Asia-Pacific Region
The digital revolution has ensured that the Internet is a critical foundation for companies in today’s information-driven economy. Broadband connectivity to the Web is no longer just an option but a business imperative. This article from Dr. Koh, Vice-President Asia-Pacific of New Skies Satellites (a spin-off from INTELSAT), explores how service providers and corporate subscribers can use satellites to obtain the essential broadband connectivity. It also explores converging applications that will harness this complementary broadband access technology.
The Internet has evolved to become a critical foundation for business in today’s information-driven economy. With data traffic burgeoning on the web, getting broadband connectivity to the web is no longer just an option but a business imperative. Currently, subscribers face a slew of options to gain high-speed access to the Internet. According to the Palo Alto, California-based venture capital firm Comventures, about 50 per cent of broadband users get their connection to the web through Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), 25 per cent through cable modems, and about 10-15 per cent via fixed wireless technology. The remaining 10 per cent of high-speed access is expected to be achieved by satellite broadband technology. Frustrations With Existing Broadband Access Technologies How do these technologies help subscribers to connect to the Internet? A DSL connection is a dedicated line over existing telephone wires that supports speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps); a cable modem uses cable television lines that connect to households; broadband wireless works on a network of transmitters and receiving antennas mounted on the rooftops of buildings; and satellite Internet, independent of telephone lines or cable systems, employs links to in-orbit satellites via dishes on the ground for two-way uploading and downloading of data communications. Although they satisfy the bulk of the demand for broadband connections, fixed-link networks such as DSL and cable modems present service providers with several key challenges. One significant issue is the proverbial ‘last-mile problem’, or how to create a high-speed link from the last portion of the local loop into businesses and households. Cost and infrastructure are the main factors accounting for this last mile problem. For instance, it is very costly to dig up the ground to install cables or trunkings in high-density, built-up metropolitan areas or in regions without any underground conduits. In terms of infrastructure limitations, cable is available only where the cable companies have placed the wire, and the length of DSL lines is confined to about 4-6 km from the phone company’s central switching office. To a certain extent, fixed wireless broadband can address the last mile issue. However, the deployment of the network of transmitters/antennas requires line-of-sight and has a range limitation of 3-6 km. Satellite Broadband – A Viable Alternative As a last-mile solution, satellites bring the ability to reach areas outside the normal ranges of fixed landlines. From a single point in space, a satellite can cover up to a third of the Earth’s surface. And some satellites feature broad beams for wide coverage plus narrower spot beams for higher-gain connections. For instance, a NSS-6 satellite features six broad Ku-band beams covering India, China, the Middle East and South Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. Additionally, 12 super-high-gain uplink spot beams in the Ka-band, each about 650 km in diameter, facilitate high data-rate transmissions from antennas as small as 90 cm directly from remote premises. Facilitate High-Speed Internet Access Unlike its fixed-link network cousins, satellite can support a one-hop link between the original server and the destination for routing of Internet Protocol (IP)-based traffic. Land-based Internet networks typically require multiple (15-20) router hops in order to connect a server to the destination. For multicasting of bandwidth-hungry content over the IP network, such multiple router hop connections are very inefficient. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can leverage satellite technology for faster Internet backbone access. For instance, with over 70 per cent of web content currently residing in the United States, there is a high demand worldwide for access to US networks. Satellite links offer foreign ISPs a high-quality, high-performance way to connect their points-of-presence (POPs) directly to the Internet backbone in the United States. Such connections bypass all ground networks and associated congestion points, as well as any terrestrial connectivity gaps, to deliver rich Internet content seamlessly to remote locations at high speeds. Establish Communications Links for Private Business Networks Satellite broadband is well suited for point-to-multipoint IP multicasting. IP multicasting sends multimedia data from one point to many points simultaneously. This technology is typically engaged to deliver bandwidth-intensive multimedia content to a select user group. Traditional land-based systems have bandwidth and technological limitations that prevent multicasting of this magnitude. Contrary to popular belief, satellite is not just a solution for rural markets alone. With the introduction of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite technology, most analysts consider satellite delivery a good match for urban and suburban applications as well. The development of VSAT technology, together with satellite’s suitability for IP multicasting, now allows major multinational businesses to maintain reliable communications links with their far-flung global operations. Through satellite broadband, a corporate headquarters can disseminate and collect large amounts of information (data, audio and video) quickly to its foreign branch offices. And non-time sensitive, bandwidth-intensive information such as CEO video briefings, distance learning and corporate intranet updates can also be sent via satellite technology. Boost to E-business According to the research firm IDC Asia-Pacific, the potential for business-to-business (B2B) e-business in Asia remains strong. The Asia-Pacific region outside of Japan is projected to see a whopping US$516 billion in B2B e-commerce by 2005, as compared to just US$12.8 billion for 2000. IDC claims that corporations in this region will purchase more direct and indirect materials via the Internet over the next few years. The biggest driver of B2B adoption will be the lowering of administrative costs for buying and selling activities, according to IDC. Given Asia’s history as a base for high-tech manufacturing and export-oriented economies, many companies in the region will see B2B as vital to acquiring the desired competitive edge. However, access to the web is unevenly distributed across the region, largely owing to terrain and infrastructure limitations. By eMarketer’s estimates, modern economies like Singapore and Australia boast Internet penetration rates of 36 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. Developing countries like China and India have an Internet penetration rate of less than 10 per cent. Hence, the wide geographical reach of satellite broadband makes it an ideal complementary solution to improve high-speed Internet connectivity in Asia. In other regions, satellite broadband has played a major role in e-business for a number of years. In the United States, for example, many large retail stores and gas stations have used two-way satellite communications for real-time credit card authorisation and inventory updates. The role of satellite technology can be broadened substantially to enhance B2B applications, which could include updating web sites, mirroring across multiple sites, as well as database updates and synchronisation. According to a recent commentary in InternetWeek.com, data that is stale or inconsistent can become a big drag on e-business efficiency. Web users may “tolerate isolated instances of site downtime or poor performance… But they view data problems as a breach of an implied contract.” Hence, real-time access to real-time data is key since outdated information leaves customers misinformed. Security is also a key concern for online transactions because sensitive data is transmitted electronically. Satellite transmission can boost users’ confidence in e-commerce as data traffic is increasingly protected through encryption before information is transmitted. Looking ahead, the application of satellite broadband to business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce in Asia also looks promising. This positive outlook stems from the region’s high population, large landmass and poor terrestrial infrastructure. Applications that present good opportunities in this area include two-way Internet access and pay-per-view for streaming content online. Greater Growth Expected Skyward It is widely acknowledged that the demand for high-speed Internet access will continue to grow. According to analysts, future content on the web will become more bandwidth-hungry and users will demand broadband access simply because it is available. With increased globalisation, companies will increasingly invest in fast Internet connections to stay ahead of the competition. Against this backdrop, the number of Internet users for Asia is expected to grow dramatically within the next few years. According to eMarketer, the total number of active Internet users in Asia is expected to reach 173 million by end 2004. Such sentiment is reflected in analysts’ projections of the huge market potential for broadband satellite in the region. Frost & Sullivan predicts that the Asian corporate satellite broadband market will reach US$471 million by 2004, and the consumer market is expected to reach US$300 million by the same period. Similarly, the overall market for satellite broadband is expected to grow dramatically in the future. Pioneer Consulting, the Massachusetts-based market research firm, expects that broadband satellite will gain 30 per cent of the Internet-access market by 2007. This translates to 50 million users generating US$15 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade. According to industry observers, improved, high-performance two-way Internet satellite is expected to be commercially available by 2002. Conclusion There is no doubt that demand for broadband connectivity will continue to grow in the future. Although land-based infrastructure will continue to build up to meet rising demands, satellites offer relative advantages over land-based infrastructure in many cases. It’s not that satellite broadband is going head-to-head with fixed-link networks to supply the much-needed high-speed access; rather, that space-based systems will play a crucial complementary role in providing broadband’s last mile link for critical access to broadband connectivity.