|Issue:||North America 2006|
|Topic:||Satellite communications for North American businesses and consumers|
David McGlade is the CEO of Intelsat the world’s largest combined network of commercial communications satellites and terrestrial connections. A 23-year veteran of the cable TV, media, broadband, and wireless industries, he is well versed in bringing new technologies and services to market. Mr. McGlade joined Intelsat in April 2005 following the company’s acquisition by a group of private equity firms, collectively named Intelsat Holdings. Prior to joining Intelsat, Mr McGlade served as chief executive officer of O2 UK (previously BT Cellnet). Previously Mr. McGlade served as president, West Region, Sprint PCS, where he launched the first CDMA network outside Asia. Mr. McGlade is a board member of Intelsat Ltd., WildBlue Communications Inc, and Skyworks Solutions. He holds a Communications degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Satellite communications services, with satellite mini-dish antennas, provide Internet connectivity in many regions of the United States without terrestrial broadband links – to virtually any home or small business. Satellite-based systems, using standard cable-industry technology for the customer premise equipment and provide low cost Internet connectivity. Large retail and banking chains with remote branches often use VSAT systems to unify their network architecture. Last year’s hurricanes highlighted the role satellite communications play in emergency relief, substituting for damaged terrestrial systems.
Stroll through a shopping mall near any major US city and you will see a microcosm of our convenient, efficient communications infrastructure. Consumers on mobile devices chat, send emails and share multimedia files with their friends across town, in the next state and in other countries. The regional telco’s storefront is busy selling broadband DSL service to consumers and small business owners. Retailers and restaurants are using high-speed terrestrial circuits to process hundreds of credit card transactions per hour. After witnessing this scene, it would be easy to assume that these conveniences are available in every corner of the country. You might also take for granted that cellular and wireline technologies would always be available, even after a natural disaster. The truth is that there are still millions of American consumers whose homes are not served by broadband DSL or cable Internet service. There are still thousands of cities where retailers and banks have no access to high-speed terrestrial circuits on which to run their critical business applications. As we learned after last year’s hurricanes, cellular and public phone services are at a high risk of failure after a natural disaster. This is where satellites come in. As a mature technology, satellite communications networks successfully serve millions of consumers and businesses nationwide, providing a valuable communications solution for an improved lifestyle and for increased business efficiency. Many local governments are also investing in mobile and fixed satellite products to ensure redundant communications are available when disaster strikes. Consumer broadband, bridging the digital divide The United States federal government’s 1999 Digital Divide Summit recognized that information tools such as high-speed Internet connectivity are critical to economic success and personal advancement. As information technology plays an increasingly important role in Americans’ economic and social lives, the prospect that some will be left behind in the information age can have serious repercussions. The digital divide threatens to impede the health of our communities, the development of a skilled workforce, and the economic welfare of our nation. Let us first examine how satellite technology is helping bridge the digital divide by providing broadband Internet connectivity to the estimated 25 million homes and small offices not wired for terrestrial service (DSL or cable modem). One of the largest providers of broadband satellite services, and satellite-based Internet service providers, have combined to provide broadband Internet connectivity to more than a quarter-million US subscribers. These companies offer an always-on broadband Internet connection that is up to 30 times faster than dial-up. Their services use a satellite mini-dish equipped with a transmitter and receiver for two-way satellite connectivity to the Internet. They are accessible to virtually every home and small business in the contiguous United States. This approach is one example of the very latest technology. It is based on next-generation, two-way wireless Ka-band spot beam satellite capacity, which lowers the cost of providing high-bandwidth access to the Internet. Their consumer-premise equipment is cable industry standard technology. The low-cost hardware enables high-speed Internet service at a consumer-friendly price throughout the country. Even telcos and broadband service providers realize that offering satellite-based solutions enables them to expand their service offerings to the most remote regions. The fixed satellite service (FSS) companies that provide end-to-end broadband solutions to service providers believe that providers need to think beyond the point-to-point connection. Instead, they should focus on the tools for running an effective network control centre and for managing the SLAs (service level agreements) that guarantee efficient, high-performance service. If service providers implement managed solutions for broadband connectivity, they can expand incrementally as the business builds. The scalability, especially for those that utilize shared hubs and full-time support, makes for a cost-effective market entry. Ensuring communications in a disaster Today, more and more consumers and businesses reap the benefits of satellite communications to improve their lives. The past few years have vividly demonstrated the important contribution satellites can make on some of the direst occasions. Local, state and federal government agencies have become increasingly aware of the need for satellite communications in the event of natural disaster or terrorist attack. It is a well-known fact, traditional wireline and cellular communications are not reliable in these disasters. After the 2005 hurricanes, satellite communications played a critical role. When the land-based telephone and broadcast networks went down, satellites remained on the job. Satellites provided redundancy, ubiquity and resiliency that were unavailable from land-based networks. Satellites first warned of the impending danger. Afterward, satellites connected emergency personnel and other first responders. Satellites reunited families. Satellites reconnected communities. Satellites then enabled the world to witness the devastation of these disasters and the many acts of heroism. Although the performance of satellite systems was impressive, lack of preparation often limited their use. Greater effective integration of satellite systems into our emergency communications networks could have substantially mitigated many of the communications problems that recently occurred in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas – and in New York City after 9/11. The importance of planning for redundancy, for back up of terrestrial communications systems, and for pre-positioning equipment for rapid deployment, cannot be overemphasized. The satellite industry was not as affected as land-based networks were by the hurricanes. While the outages on land-based networks surged in the days following the hurricanes, satellite networks were also experiencing a corresponding surge in demand for capacity. Even during Hurricane Katrina, those with mobile satellite phones along the Gulf Coast found that their phones had a dial tone when other networks were silent. FEMA, the National Guard and Red Cross, utility workers, people in search of loved ones, even local cellular and phone companies, were among those using over 20,000 mobile satellite phones and terminals provided by Globalstar, Iridium, Mobile Satellite Ventures and Inmarsat. Stratos Global, a reseller of Iridium, Globalstar and Inmarsat capacity and equipment, provided free phone calls for victims at shelters set up throughout the affected area. Mobile Satellite Ventures also provided free service to state and local public-safety agencies. The FSS providers also stepped in quickly to provide emergency voice, video and data communications. For example, Hughes Networks Systems immediately re-established Wal-Mart’s satellite communications network, creating one of the ‘life-support systems’ for local communities starting to rebuild. Intelsat reconfigured capacity, and in some cases donated service, to help wireless providers re-establish their networks and to provide capacity for the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. PanAmSat donated capacity to the Red Cross to provide communications to about 40 of their sites and to specially equipped Red Cross mobile units. Other operators donated capacity to enable high-speed, ship-to-shore communications for ships carrying disaster relief teams to the New Orleans area following the flooding. The satellite broadcast community also played a role with both XM Satellite Radio and DirecTV providing FEMA – and the Red Cross – with a 24/7 dedicated broadcast station for disseminating hurricane-related information. XM’s Emergency Alert channel tracked the storm and reported on evacuation routes, and later provided updates about storm clean up, road closures, school closings and other vital information. Enterprise communications While satellite communications is just now enjoying a surge of popularity in the disaster-recovery community, its effectiveness for US businesses has been well documented for more than two decades. Indeed, some of the country’s largest retailers and restaurant chains have proven that Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite networks provide uniformly high performance, regardless of geographic location. Unlike DSL, where the speeds and services available depend upon the infrastructure and distance from your telco Central Office, VSAT delivers the exact same speed and service level to every location. This is critical for large retailers who have many stores located in rural areas, but need a single, common network architecture for their information technology platform. For these large, multi-site organizations, VSAT offers a wide range of application support, including fast credit card authorizations, Internet and intranet access, nightly polling, corporate communications and distance learning. One of the more innovative VSAT service providers has begun marketing a new service that is getting a lot of attention from bank IT and networking executives. The service uses satellite technology to provide 100 per cent uptime for mission-critical bank networks. This on-demand service provides a broadband connection via satellite for use as an automatic switchover in case a bank’s primary network connectivity is lost. Many banks today use backup connections that run over the same physical telephone company infrastructure as their primary connection. A backup satellite link uses a redundant, completely separate, physical path. This means even a fibre cut or central office disruption will not cause a loss of connectivity. The satellite service is billed based on usage, so customers pay only for the connectivity that they need. In addition to backup connectivity, the service can also augment a customer’s existing frame relay or leased line network, especially for multicast data delivery. As we go about our daily lives, enjoying access to an abundance of communications options, satellite will maintain its critical, behind-the-scenes role to ensure that more of us have constant access to communications, in good times and bad.