|Issue:||Latin America IV 1998|
|Topic:||Rural and Remote Communicationsfor Latin America and the Caribbean|
|Author:||Mr. Don Koulaouzos|
|Title:||Senior Manager Regional Programmes|
Satellite communications (Satcoms) are now being used not just for emergencies or by travellers on the move, but also to fill the gaps in terrestrial telephone infrastructure. Satcoms. currently provides a fixed or semi-fixed telephone installation to rural and remote communities. Inmarsat is continually involved in the development of advanced mobile satellite communication, and will embrace the new millennium by positioning itself as the supplier of choice for users of mobile and remote area multi-media communication services.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, lnmarsat’s mobile satellite services play a vital role in ensuring seamless telecommunications services in rural and remote locations. Three-fifths of the world’s population has no access to a telephone. Establishment of Inmarsat lnmarsat village payphones in rural and remote areas are now more affordable and accessible. All too often, people think of Satellite Communications (Satcoms) in terms of emergencies – for use by aid agencies, rescue teams and the media in the aftermath of conflicts or environmental disasters, or for distress and safety applications by ships at sea. Indeed, it was for the latter use that Inmarsat, the international mobile satellite organisation, was established 19 years ago, its constitution including a public service remit to provide communications for distress and safety applications to the maritime community. Satcoms are now being used not only for emergencies or by travellers on the move, but also to fill the gaps in terrestrial telephone infrastructure. Satcoms currently provides a fixed or semi-fixed telephone installation to rural and remote communities. These include commercial activities such as oil exploration, mining, cattle ranching and agriculture, remote monitoring of potential disasters such as earthquake zones and areas prone to flooding, and telemedicine; the transmission of data and images for diagnostic analysis between primary health care centres in remote areas and specialist medical facilities even halfway across the world. Industrial Benefits Marcro, a US-based company, is heavily involved in pipeline construction and horizontal drilling in the jungles and rivers of Latin America, particularly in Peru and Colombia. For them, the biggest benefit of using an Inmarsat terminal is the ability to order replacements for delivery to the project site instead of having to transport a large stock of spare parts to remote locations as a contingency measure. A network of 80 Inmarsat C transceivers monitors and controls river flows through two Argentinean dams. The Autoridad Interjurisdiccional de las Cuencas de los Rios Limay Neuquen y Negro (AIC), which is responsible for ensuring the water supply to the country’s major fruit growing region, chose Inmarsat C because they found the system to operate more reliably and economically than other options in mountainous areas where stations are located. The remote monitoring stations measure such variables as snow level, solar radiation, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, air temperature, rainfall and water levels. Each station transmits the readings to AIC’s central station at Cipolleti in Rio Negro. Each sensor also features an alarm threshold and will send an alert immediately if required. A combination of solar panels and batteries supply the powers most of the stations. Companies in Latin America and the Caribbean can fit Inmarsat equipment to their trucks. A fleet manager can track trucks which are fitted with Inmarsat-C, instruct a driver to divert if necessary, pass on messages from a driver’s home, and send information about changes in arrangements for consignments, or conditions of freight. The driver is, if necessary, able to warn the transport office of changeable factors such as poor weather, traffic accidents or delays at border crossings. The company’s fleet management office can then keep its customers fully informed about the progress of their consignments. Even customs papers can be filled out before arrival and sent electronically to the destination, reducing congestion and saving time and money. The Argentine Fisheries Protection Agency expects to use Inmarsat-C in the automation of catch reports which currently take months to work into government databases. When filed over Inmarsat-C, these declarations of which and how many fish species were caught are available in quasi-real time, and allow authorities to take decisions on issues such as closing a fishing zone in order to protect residual fish stocks. Rural Telephony For people living in rural communities, isolation and lack of communications is a way of life. Approximately three billion of the world’s population have no access to a telephone, currently; 67% of the world’s telephone lines serve just 14% of the population; and approximately 63% of all countries have telecommunications networks which cover only urban areas – World teledensity outside the developed countries is only 4.5%. The cost of installing fixed lines over difficult terrain can be prohibitive and the possibility of recovering any capital investment is remote. In order to counteract the aforementioned problem, Inmarsat has conducted a number of pilot schemes to extend the reach of modern telecommunications to rural and remote locations. Some of these locations are in Latin America, Africa, South-East Asia, Central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS, the Middle East, North Africa, China and the Pacific Rim countries over the last few years. Example of the Macushi Indians Inmarsat satellite payphones have been in public use by people living in remote communities for several years, utilising terminals similar to that of a conventional public phone, serving one user at a time. Building on this, multi-channel Inmarsat mini-M phone systems can be combined with a switchboard/Private Automatic Branch Exchange (PABX) and Wireless Local Loop (WLL) to provide a service throughout a village or a small town. In 1997, a version of the mini-M, the Large Antenna Mini-M (LAMM) was developed using a high gain antenna with a flat panel measuring 50cm across, which is ideal as a low-cost rural public telephone. Until an Inmarsat mini-M terminal was introduced to them, the Macushi Indians living in Surama, a village in the Guyanese rain forest, had never used even the most basic of telephones. But within three days, six Macushi youngsters had learned to make international calls with the Inmarsat terminal, send emails with multimedia file attachments from a computer, and mastered the basics of word processing. Here, the mini-M is not only being used for basic communications, but also to rally environmental protection organisations to put pressure on the Guyanese government to control the tree felling process in the rain forest. The villages hope that their growing computer literacy will help save their livelihoods and maintain their culture. These projects demonstrate that Inmarsat can provide the most appropriate and cost effective solution for rapid deployment where some form of communication is needed immediately and where rural communications do not justify an extension of the cellular or wired networks. Growing Demand Inmarsat’s satcom systems can potentially overcome all the practical and logistical difficulties associated with landline, and even some microwave installations, through difficult terrain and across long distances at lesser forward investment compared to landline or cellular alternatives. This solution is believed to take far less time to implement. The recent relaxation of national licensing and regulatory restrictions in the mobile satellite industry is much welcomed by Warren Grace, Director General of Inmarsat. He commented: “An open and flexible regulatory will be essential if Latin America is to get the most from this exciting technology, ” Affordable phone calls are thus becoming available to villagers, some of whom have no basic utilities, such as electricity or telephones. Villagers will now be able to keep in touch with relatives and friends in distant remote villages, as well as with those who travel abroad. The demand for village phones could reach the thousands within the next few years. Vicious Cycle Over the next decade, the true potential of mobile satcoms should be realised in the emerging markets. Forecasts suggest that the total global mobile satellite communications market will be worth as much as US$20 billion by the year 2005, more than 10 times the size of today’s industry, with around 10 million customers. In a keynote address given at Africa Telecom in Johannesburg in May 1998, Grace, told delegates: “more than 130,000 Inmarsat terminals are currently commissioned for use with the system, with many of the users based in emerging markets.” “It is axiomatic that economic and social development require good communications,” said Grace. “The difficulty for many countries is finding the up-front investment funds required to install the communications infrastructure needed to foster such development. It is a vicious circle- the funds are needed to underpin development, but without development it is hard to find the funds.” Inmarsat’s satellite systems features almost all of the common infrastructure (and expense) in the satellites themselves. Satellite systems are not dependent on terrain and other factors that make the operation of terrestrial communications links difficult. And, as mobile terminals are designed to be small and efficient, they are the only on-ground equipment a user requires. So the investment required to install a link – mobile, transportable, temporary or permanent – is limited to the cost of the terminal. User charges occur once development is underway and are usually paid by the beneficiaries; and the equipment is portable and reusable so, when a need arises elsewhere, it can be easily moved on to another development site to start the process all over again. Conclusion Inmarsat is continually involved in the development of advanced mobile satellite communication in order to meet the specific needs of users in remote and isolated parts of the world. Inmarsat will embrace the new millennium by positioning itself as the supplier of choice for users of mobile and remote area multi-media communication services.