|Issue:||North America 2009|
|Topic:||Satellite and wireless – reaching remote regions|
|Author:||David Hartshorn and Darrell Owen|
|Title:||David Hartshorn, Secretary General & Darrell Owen – President, Owen & Owen|
|Organisation:||David Hartshorn, Global VSAT Forum & Darrell Owen, Owen & Owen|
David Hartshorn is the Secretary General, Global VSAT Forum GVF, the satellite industry’s London-based non-profit international association. Mr Hartshorn leads the Forum’s global efforts to facilitate the provision of satellite-based communications solutions throughout the world by working closely with national-, regional- and global-level policy makers. Mr. Hartshorn has worked in the satellite communications industry for 20 years.. Mr Hartshorn is a Member of the Society of Satellite Professionals International and an ex-officio Board Member and former Chapter President in London and Denver. He is also a Member of the UN Working Group for Emergency Telecommunications, the International Telecommunication Union (Rapporteur), Europe’s International Satellite Initiative, the Satellite Action Plan-Regulatory Working Group, and others. David Hartshorn has been published in hundreds of editions of magazines, newspapers, and newsletters, and has spoken and chaired at hundreds of conferences and seminars in every major region of the world.
The latest generations of satellite and wireless technology can now provide cost-effective onnectivity in the world’s most remote regions. A joint USAID-Intel project in TaVan, a small, remote, village in northern Vietnam demonstrated how advanced information and communication technology (ICT) can ‘leapfrog’ the need for traditional communications technology and bring connectivity to the most difficult to reach regions. Recently, USAID and the Global VSAT Forum agreed to a public private partnership (PPP) to cooperate on TaVan-type development projects.
Until recently, profitable communications networks in remote regions of developing countries were no more than pretty PowerPoint presentations. For years, throughout the entire communications sector, there was a lot of talk and little action. This was also largely true throughout the world; except for corporate networks, where large businesses with widely dispersed operations achieved major cost savings and operational efficiencies by deploying IP-based satellite networks. In the pharmaceuticals business, where new drugs are regularly introduced to hundreds or thousands of pharmacists, satellite-based networks enabled companies like Rite-Aid to simultaneously deliver updates on availability, how to administer the latest drugs, managing inventory as a function of shelf life, and so on. In the fast food business, where staff churn rate of 100 per cent per year is common, fast-food chains needed a way to cost effectively train a continuous stream of new recruits and satellite communications, satcom, gave the chains a way to use their centrally managed corporate networks to reach a multitude of widely dispersed sites. This trend has continued since the 1990s and the volumes are escalating, and economies of scale growing as the technology improved; the satellite industry, as well, has become more adept at tailoring corporate solutions. In the public sector, another crucial trend was underway in parallel: governments and international organisations were grappling with ways to cost effectively bridge the ‘digital divide’. National budgets allocated funds to projects to help fulfil public policy objectives; improved access to education, health, e-government and other vital services were among the first objectives to be addressed. A few developing nations began large-scale deployment of satellite-based communications – China, India and Brazil were among the first – and they reported their successes to their neighbours. Word spread through inter-governmental dialogues like the World Summit for the Information Society, WSIS, a UN initiative that got states to agree on certain principles- and goals for tangible results – in closing the communications gap in the developing regions of the world. The transformation has been dramatic. Today, the satellite industry’s largest deployments of bi-directional satellite services are for public-sector distance learning service in developing countries. From Mexico’s Enciclomedia project with more than 60 thousand earth stations, to a Brazilian university’s Unopar distance learning program – reaching more than 120,000 university students via satellite – to the African Virtual University, which links more than a dozen universities across the continent via satellite, distance learning has emerged as a ‘killer application’. These programs have done so well that local satellite service providers are moving to export the services as a commercial business – a sure sign of success. Whether it is primary, secondary or higher education, much of the curriculum is as applicable in one country as in another. So the Unopar distance-learning program is being positioned for delivery elsewhere in Latin America. Likewise, Enciclomedia, which also hopes to sell its services in West Africa at the outer reaches of its satellite footprint. The Indian government has also allocated millions of dollars to deliver satellite-based distance learning programmes, sustainably, throughout Africa. New satellite and wireless markets On the road in Oregon, USA, Darrell Owen, the project manager for the last mile initiative (LMI) project in Vietnam, received a call on his mobile phone from half a world away, from a colleague in TaVan, a small, remote, village in northern Vietnam. The call, placed over a recently installed broadband network, used several new technologies to connect that rural location to a driver on the other side of the world. This call showcased the ability of advanced information and communication technology (ICT) to ‘leapfrog’ traditional technology and bring connectivity to the most difficult to reach regions of the world. “Call me back so we can test the quality of incoming calls – we need to see if the quality is as good as we were hoping,” the caller said and gave the local phone number. Returning the call, Darrell heard the sounds of kids playing in the background. This was certainly the first TaVan-to-Oregon phone call ever, but the quality was excellent. With those two phone calls, the joint USAID-Intel project demonstrated how ICTs could link even a small, remote rural village like TaVan to the rest of the world. Beyond the phone calls, the project also demonstrated how ICTs could bring services – and socio-economic opportunity – to rural citizens that previously lacked services of any kind. Because of the project, TaVan’s local health clinic could now access the Ministry of Health’s website and improve the quality of health services to local citizens. Teachers and students at the TaVan primary school were also able to download educational materials and community government officials gained access to national and provincial information weeks, even months, ahead of when they would normally receive word of key initiatives. Farmers got information about how to improve crop yields and combat plant diseases. Local citizens could call friends and relatives throughout Lao Cai province and e-mail others around the world. Guesthouse operators began offering their guests broadband Internet to keep in touch with their families, send photos of their trip or even update blogs. More importantly, visitors stayed in the village longer and brought additional revenue to the community. Even more important than the connectivity and value-added services made available to those living in TaVan, this demonstration project also served as part of the technical assistance (TA) given the Vietnam Telecommunications Fund (VTF). The VTF manages Vietnam’s universal service funds and can make good use of this project as a model for other villages. The TaVan project shows that rural connectivity is not simply a matter of placing one or two phones in a village, but should, instead, offer the possibility of delivering broadband Internet connectivity to the entire village. Given the success of the TaVan project, the VTF has incorporated this approach within its funding priorities. In just two years the LMI, Last Mile Initiative, project helped guide the implementation of VTF projects and its distribution of nearly US$130 million for rural telecommunication expansion. This will continue at an estimated rate of US$70-80 million per year. Efforts are now underway for a follow-on Vietnam LMI 2.0 program that will focus on nation-wide objectives. This will include supporting the implementation of, potentially, thousands of commune-level access points and supporting the development of a wide range of value-added content and services that are relevant to rural citizens. However, the story does not end in Vietnam. On a recent trip to Washington DC, Darrell received an e-mail asking him to get in contact with David Hartshorn, the General Director of the Global VSAT Forum (GVF). David had recently been in Singapore and heard a presentation about the USAID-Intel project in TaVan. They subsequently exchanged e-mails, and since David’s office was in Washington DC, they got together. They discussed a possible partnership between USAID and the Global VSAT Forum to replicate in other countries the same approach used in TaVan – delivering Voice over IP, and a range of Internet-based applications to entire communities via the latest generation of lower-cost, higher-capacity satellite in combination with WiMAX and WiFi broadband. Once again, a phone call, but this time covering just a few short blocks, marked an important milestone in the effort to bring connectivity to rural villages; the call resulted in an expansion of USAID’s entire telecommunications development portfolio. The call and the preliminary meeting that followed led to extensive discussions between USAID and GVF. Ultimately, USAID and the GVF defined and put in place an ICT-related public private partnership (PPP) to work together on TaVan-type development projects. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in December 2008. Continuing discussions between USAID’s ICT Team, GVF and its member companies, government missions, companies participating in other USAID projects and NGOs, are exploring other potential projects for education, export promotion, health services and the like. The MOU makes it possible to expand a range of USAID’s development initiatives into underserved rural areas. Frequently, satellite services are considered too expensive for many development projects. However, with the recent lower cost satellite solutions, coupled with reliable wireless solutions that can connect multiple locations to a single VSAT, the equation shifts substantially and satellite connectivity becomes more viable and sustainable over the long term. Satellites can cost effectively deliver value-added educational, health, agricultural, business and government services and content over a single network to virtually any location on the planet. Satellite-based solutions have the potential to transform the underserved regions of the world. For additional information, contact the Global VSAT Forum at firstname.lastname@example.org