|Satellite technology-an emerging hope for India
|Conny L. Kullman
|Chief Executive Officer
India’s continuing economic growth, its educational system, social services and access to medical care, will all depend in good part upon its ability to roll out its communications infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Satellite-based backhaul networks, which can rapidly re-allocate bandwidth, provide lower operational and deployment costs, especially in difficult or remote regions. Satellite systems will also help India meet its ambitious Internet and broadband connectivity goals in the coming years and compete effectively in the world’s markets.
Across India, IT and communications services are experiencing tremendous growth, benefiting national business and providing new opportunities in the realms of education, health and social services. Much of this progress has been made possible because deregulation increased competition and allowed business people and companies to take advantage of the business opportunities presented. This growth is predicted to continue at a phenomenal rate. According to International Data Corporation India, the domestic IT industry is predicted to grow 21.7 per cent in 2005 and will become the fastest-growing market in the Asia-Pacific region. A NASSCOM-McKinsey report projects that annual revenue for India’s IT industry in 2008 will be US$87 billion. The report predicts that most growth will happen in IT services, software products, IT enabled services and e-businesses. Indian companies, such as Infosys and Wipro, are taking advantage of this growth and stepping up on the international scene. They are using their advantages, including cost competitiveness on a global basis, a highly educated workforce and the demographic advantage of the large working-age population, which will be available in the coming years and turning themselves into transnational corporations. Foreign companies are also taking note. It is estimated that approximately 80 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are evaluating the prospect of off shoring most of their non-strategic processes. Accenture’s recent global executive survey on outsourcing found that IT learning, training and supply chain are the most common activities that are contracted to Indian firms. India’s success in outsourcing will be largely dependent upon the availability of reliable and affordable communications in all areas of the country. The right communications systems for telephone and broadband connections can help these companies grow and access capital, develop a global footprint and create a global client and revenue base. The government of India recognises this. In October 2004, the government announced that it might allow foreign direct investment in telecom operators to increase from 49 per cent to 74 per cent-a move that should help develop and grow the sector. Overall, teledensity in India is on the rise, reaching 8.37 per cent in November 2004, up from 7 per cent in March 2004, according to the Indian Department of Telecom. However, rural teledensity in India is currently below 2 per cent, an obstacle if the growing economy is to reach India as a whole. The resolution of this problem is a promise that emerging technologies hold. Cellular backhaul solutions Wireless service in India is an option that has incredible growth potential. Despite a year-on-year growth rate of more than 80 per cent, as of September 2004, India’s wireless penetration rate was still only 3 per cent. The explosive growth potential of the mobile phone industry has created the need to extend access, quickly and affordably. Technological developments such as cellular backhaul give providers a greater array of effective solutions that can overcome traditional issues, such as cost of deployment and terrain impediments. Satellite-based backhaul networks provide even greater flexibility. Backhaul refers to the connection of local communications facilities-a cellular radio base station, for example- to a main switching centre, a satellite uplink or a backbone network. Typically on a mobile network, at any given moment, a large amount of backbone capacity goes unused. A financial review usually reveals that, at a macro level, there is more capacity than that actually needed to carry the traffic; the cost of this unused capacity has a negative impact on financial results. A satellite-based cellular backhaul network allows for the re-allocation of core bandwidth capacity and is able to adapt to the variations in bandwidth demand on a per route basis. It is not possible to do this as quickly as is often required when using terrestrial assets such as leased lines or microwave. Fortunately, a satellite-based backhaul network provides the flexibility to re-allocate bandwidth capacity. The infrastructure capacity can be seen as a ‘box’ of capacity that is split among different routes and can be easily reallocated. This can be done between the earth stations by delivering more capacity-by satellite-to stressed, or overburdened, cells, while reducing the capacity of other routes. This can be done in a matter of minutes or hours using satellite as opposed to the weeks and months that re-routing this kind of activity usually takes with microwaves and leased lines. A flexible network can avoid the need to provide approximately 10 times the backbone capacity ordinarily required to run a mobile network. By matching the capacity required and the connections needed on a per channel basis, mobile operators can buy a reduced amount of satellite bandwidth and reallocate it according to demand to accommodate short-term surges caused, for example, by special events. This reduces the need to buy great amounts of network capacity to handle peak traffic when only a small percentage of this capacity is needed for normal traffic requirements. With satellite backhaul, an operator can respond to variations in traffic caused by user mobility or peak demand without investing in a permanently oversized network. Hybrid backhaul networks A flexible satellite-based cellular backhaul network can complement traditional fixed transmission lines and allow service providers to create more efficient routes. When subscribers have moved from one cell to another, there is no need to keep their bandwidth at the former cell. By dynamically re-allocating system bandwidth ‘on the fly’, satellite cellular backhaul services provide a new, efficient, way of managing a backbone network. In addition to the flexibility it provides on a daily use, the availability of satellite-based capacity is a powerful tool for emergency situations and for planned and non-planned outages as well. Network redundancy needs can be adequately resolved by satellite. Since the cost of unused capacity is most significant for a terrestrial network, and the main cost for a satellite-based network is for the capacity actually used, a mix of terrestrial and satellite-based backhaul capacity is likely to provide the best level of efficiency in both technical and economical terms. This is of particular importance in India, with telecommunications networks serving an increasingly important role as drivers of economic development. Cellular wireless has already proved itself to be an efficient way of increasing capacity and extending access to areas ranging from remote rural communities and islands, to high-density urban areas such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Fixed satellite service providers are playing an important role in continuing the rapid growth of mobile use in India due to the flexibility, speed of implementation, efficiency and reach of geosynchronous satellite connectivity. Broadband via satellite As with cellular backhaul, satellites offer a quick alternative to traditional landlines at considerably less expense and require much less time than it takes to build out traditional infrastructure for broadband access. The Department of Telecom recently announced that it plans to connect 50,000 home and business subscribers to broadband services by March 2005. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India laid out connectivity goals for 2010: 40 million Internet and 20 million broadband connections. Most of these connections will be made through VSAT and direct-to-home connections. To encourage this development, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has suggested an open sky policy, removal of certain restrictions on antenna size and throughput, reductions in licence and spectrum fees and delicensing the spectrum bands used for wireless broadband technologies. Just as with the growth of mobile phones, this deregulation is intended to promote industry growth and competition. Broadband via VSAT is especially well suited to India. VSAT reception equipment can be installed anywhere and the terminals are reliable. The connections can handle large amounts of traffic and can easily handle the delivery of video and data content to multiple sites, in a cost effective and efficient manner. This will have a profound impact in areas such as education and medicine, allowing interactive distance learning and telemedicine to help people in underserved or remote areas. e-Learning in Asia One example of a successful distance learning application in Asia is The University of the South Pacific’s use of satellite technology. The University of the South Pacific (USP) asked Fiji International Telecommunications Limited (FINTEL) to develop a sophisticated satellite communications network to transmit distance learning programmes over thousands of miles of ocean. Operating one of the worlds’ most extraordinary distance learning programmes, USP delivers academic courses to almost half of its students who live on islands throughout the institution’s 12 member countries: the Cook Islands, Fiji Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The dispersed and complex geography of these member countries made pan-regional satellite coverage and engineering expertise the most critical criteria for selecting a satellite network and supplier. FINTEL, working with Intelsat, designed the university’s distance learning network, called USPNet. This VSAT network consists of 12 earth stations located across the South Pacific in a mesh topology that provides pan-regional satellite coverage to support the network. Cellular example Satellite-based cellular backhaul services are increasingly popular. PT Indosat Tbk. (Indosat) recently signed a four-year multi-transponder contract for satellite capacity in order to support the growth of its satellite-based, cellular and other telecommunications backhaul services within Indonesia. Indosat is the first GSM and IDD operator in Indonesia, and is leveraging the power of satellite to grow its network in Asia quickly and flexibly. This cellular backhaul application will help increase Indosat’s business while providing reliable and cost-effective service to its customers. Using a satellite network to support this application enables Indosat to grow without worrying about infrastructure limitations. Both cellular backhaul and broadband via satellite are two of the emerging technologies that are bringing hope and growth to India. Though continued liberalisation and by fostering investment, India can produce a new generation of innovators who can compete on the world stage.