|Issue:||Asia-Pacific II 2005|
|Topic:||Satellites and broadcasting in the Asia-Pacific|
|Organisation:||Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Ltd|
Peter Jackson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited. Before joining AsiaSat, Mr Jackson was the Regional Director for Asia-Pacific of Cable & Wireless, which included the responsibility for several satellite telecom ventures around the region. Mr Jackson has over 20 years’ experience in the telecommunications field. Mr Jackson joined Cable & Wireless following his training with British Telecom. He has worked in Dominica and BVI, in the Caribbean, the United Arab Emirates, in the Middle East, Macau and China and served as the Regional Marketing Manager for the Bermuda, Caribbean and Atlantic region.
With its growing economies, the demand for entertainment and information in Asia is increasing, especially in remote regions where terrestrial distribution is inadequate. Many Asian television and increasingly digital radio, broadcasters rely on satellites for 100 per cent coverage. Satellites deliver the same content to an unlimited number of stations for a fixed price. Consequently, they form the backbone of the whole content delivery chain. Satellites provide Direct-to-Home transmission, and distribute the content both to cable systems and to broadband distributor head-ends.
When geostationary communications satellites first came into service, in the 1960s, they were used to provide direct telecommunications links across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. They augmented the limited capacity trans-oceanic analogue co-axial cables allowing live television programming to cross these oceans for the first time. The early satellites were of low power and required earth stations 30 meters in diameter. The need for very large and expensive earth stations limited the use of satellites to the major traffic routes and precluded their use in many developing countries. As satellites increased in power and sensitivity the size of the earth stations reduced, allowing the economic use of satellites in most countries, albeit initially only for the expensive international traffic. By the late 1980s, earth station sizes and satellite costs had gone down enough to economically handle national traffic in countries such as Canada, China, India, Indonesia and Japan. Still, the price was a factor when considering their use for national traffic in many developing countries. It was only in the 1990s that satellites became a viable option for national communications, and government and corporate networks. The demand for higher quality and more powerful satellites grew exponentially in the past decade, particularly in large and physically disperse regions like the Asia-Pacific. By the end of the 90s, fibre had replaced co-axial for all long distance point-to-point communication, and at a price no satellite could compete with. The era of using satellites to connect two communication centres was all but over except for the most remote locations, and satellites were finding their niche in the broadcast and mesh network arena. This article is focused on the advantages and the use of satellites to offer services in the Asian region, which has some of the fastest growing economies in the world, encompasses two-thirds of the world’s population and is potentially the world’s largest television market. Advantages of satellite One of the major advantages of a satellite is its ubiquitous coverage, which allows services to be extended not only to people in cities, but also to those living in small isolated islands and sparsely populated rural areas, or anywhere terrestrial service is inadequate or non-existent. Landlines can take years to plan and install, with terrain and inaccessibility compounding the problem. Even today, for many remote areas terrestrial solutions remain economically impractical. In comparison, the ground equipment for a satellite connection can be installed within a few months, offering fixed costs for any distance within the satellite footprint. Moreover, terrestrial infrastructure is vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters over the whole of its length while satellite links have very limited vulnerability and are therefore frequently used as backup to sensitive terrestrial links. High-powered Direct-to-Home satellites also offer last mile access, transmitting content directly to an unlimited number of homes in all locations over the whole of its footprint. Satellite for broadcasting services Today, one of the primary applications for satellites is broadcasting video or other common content to multiple locations. Due to its unique ability to deliver broadcast services over a wide area connecting unlimited number of locations, satellite offers the most cost effective and fastest deployment of point to multipoint distribution. National broadcasting Satellite systems serving national domestic broadcast demands have been in service in most parts of Asia for several years. With its growing economies and improving living standards, the demand for entertainment and information in Asia is increasing, especially in rural and remote villages where terrestrial distribution is inadequate. National television programmers are increasingly launching new channels designed for both their home and neighbouring markets. Today, many national broadcasters in Asia are relying on satellites to achieve 100 per cent coverage nationwide. For example, national broadcaster Pakistan TV, as well as China’s state broadcaster, CCTV and its 20 provincial and municipal broadcasters, are using satellites to distribute television programming both nationally and provincially. Regional broadcasting The history of regional satellite television in Asia began with the service launch of STAR, Asia’s first regional TV broadcaster, in 1991. Since then, Asian satellite operators have played an important role in the development of the Asian satellite television business, and people in many countries in Asia are now able to enjoy multi-channel television delivered by Direct-to-Home satellite, terrestrial cable networks and recently over their IP broadband connection. Regardless of the final delivery method, much of the television content is delivered, both nationally and regionally, from satellites to the Direct-to-Home system uplink sites, or the cable system or broadband distributor head-ends. As Asian economies continue to improve, it is further stimulating the demand for television service and prompting regional television broadcasters to launch additional, often country focused, television channels. Radio broadcasting Satellite also distributes radio services very efficiently. Not only can satellite antennas receive satellite radio programmes directly, local radio stations can also receive the programs and then retransmit them using conventional (terrestrial) radio broadcast equipment. With digital radio broadcast technology, stereo-quality programming broadcast via satellite has become an effective way of delivering radio services to the whole country, or even across the region. This makes the traditional multiple radio relay stations previously needed to transmit the signals over large distances redundant. In most large countries, the cost of maintaining the intermediate remote relay sites more than covers the cost of the satellite. Satellites serve not only national radio broadcasters, but also public service broadcasters in the United States and Europe that distribute their overseas services to the whole of the Asian region. Video contribution and distribution services Satellite has also become the prime vehicle for video distribution and contribution in Asia. Many international wholesale news agencies, such as Reuters, APTN, as well as broadcast companies, use satellite to establish or complement their existing global or regional distribution networks. This way they can provide live television news services to clients across the region. One of their major products is live news reporting using Satellite News Gathering (SNG) equipment. This system, developed in mid 1990s, uses a vehicle equipped with video production facilities and a satellite uplink to transmit live images of major news events, sports or other special events to the news centres. As audiences increasingly expect live video images from such events, the demand for this service in Asia is set to increase. Development of satellite broadcasting The development of satellite broadcasting is shaped by various factors. Among the factors that affect broadcasters and viewers are changes in technology. When regional satellite television was first introduced into Asia in the early 1990s, there were only a dozen or so analogue television channels available to the Asian audience. With each analogue channel using a whole satellite transponder, the capacity of a satellite was quickly taken up, triggering the demand for additional satellites with higher power, added capacity and greater coverage. To meet this demand, the most powerful satellite ever launched in Asia, was launched in late 1995. This satellite, for the first time, offered the whole of Asia a single beam covering all the land area from Moscow to Auckland. The advent of this satellite not only prompted the addition of television channels, but also introduced digital television to Asia. The German international broadcasting service, Deutsche Welle, launched digital services to Asia in early 1996. With the advent of digital compression technology, which allows multiple television channels on each transponder, a satellite offered even better value for television programme delivery. This reduction in the cost of using a satellite on a per channel basis, made satellites more affordable to small and medium size broadcasters and encouraged the development of new channels. Digitalisation has the added advantage of dramatically improving the signal quality of the channels. New services Today, satellite broadcasting has completed its digital transformation and the satellite channels on most satellite systems are all digital. We are now seeing video content developed using different digital formats, dependent on the final use of the content. The ability of a satellite to process content in multiple formats lets satellites broadcast video and other content for all types of existing and future applications. All of these applications will play to the satellites’ strengths of being able to deliver the same content to an unlimited number of receiving stations for one fixed price. These applications will range from high-quality video cinema services designed for storage and delayed viewing on very large cinema screens, to real-time sports events delivered to hand held devices via local 3G and next generation mobile sites. One of these applications will be the distribution of High Definition Television (HDTV). HDTV offers improved picture quality and allows the viewer to use a large screen without the noticeable reduction in quality currently experienced with existing 525 or 625 line standards. HDTV is already available to consumers in the United States, Europe and Japan, and more and more television operators will introduce HDTV in Asia. In the USA and Europe, HDTV is pushed by the channel suppliers as an improved viewing experience to give themselves a market advantage. In Asia, the boom in large, inexpensive, flat screen television sales is driving consumers to demand the better quality that HDTV provides, thus pulling HDTV into the region. Ultimately, as we change from analogue to digital, all television programmes will be in HDTV the question is not if, but when. In Asia as regulatory roadblocks relax and economies continue to improve, we will see continuing growth in the number of DTH, cable and broadband systems offering high quality multi-channel HDTV entertainment. In addition, governments are working to ensure that these entertainment services will be available, inexpensively, to all parts of their countries to avoid a geographical ‘have and have not’ situation. Future As technical innovations such as digital terrestrial television and video content to handhelds continue to be developed, the competitive issues for all the video service providers, regardless of the final delivery method, will evolve to the simple issues of the price and quality and quantity of the content. Having access to the right content will become the key issue to these service providers, satellite will, therefore, be not just a DTH delivery method, but an integral part of the whole content delivery chain.