On satellites and sausages

by Staff Reporter | November 16th, 2012

Louis Zacharilla, director of development, SSPI

As the conservative satellite industry accommodates to the rigours of the ‘broadband economy’ there will be bumps and bruises says Louis Zacharilla, SSPI director of development.

A question begging to be answered is: does a satellite, which takes years to manufacture, have the adaptability for telecommunications and media appetites that change as quickly as the menu in a stylish restaurant?

The great German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck remarked famously that “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either being made”.

After moderating panels at IBC and World Satellite Business Week in 2012, it appears that those of us who like the stable satellite industry might relate to his quote when it comes to broadband satellite. It is evolving quickly, but the process of accommodating the needs of what I call “The Broadband Economy,” is not pretty to watch. Nor has it been cheap to enter this game, or working quite as planned.

The good news, however, is that it is working.

The industry’s players, including ViaSat, Avanti, Eutelsat and the soon-to-be launched O3b are adapting to a robust appetite for their broadband offerings. For the most part, Ka-band, has begun to deliver.

The main question asked of the panels I moderated was heard also in the hallways in Paris and at stands in Amsterdam.

“Do these ventures have it right?” Are ViaSat-1, Hylas and KA-SAT good bets? For sure, the satellite industry will never win the World Series of Poker. It is conservative, which probably accounts for its survival.

However for a satellite industry heading into 2013 with hundreds of gigabits of new capacity in the sky, designed to deliver, as O3b says in its advertisements, “Fibre speed (with) satellite reach”, broadband is a big deal. This is new territory to conquer, especially when delving into consumer markets, as both Hughes and ViaSat have done in North America. For these two operators, the consensus is that the business model may work.

Yet a question begging to be answered is: does a satellite, which takes years to manufacture, have the adaptability for telecommunications and media appetites that change as quickly as the menu in a stylish restaurant? Or will satellites fall short of providing the necessary velocity and innovation when it comes time to accelerate and adapt to the next iPhone or cloud-based phenomenon?

The default answer is there will always be a role for satellites. There will always be a role for horses too, but it narrowed when automobiles hit the streets.

 Now that they (broadband fleets) are built and in the sky (with the exception of O3b), we are learning something new: to stimulate demand requires imagination, not a launch pad

When it comes to Ka-band, the question to ask is how large a role will we play? There is little doubt that today’s broadband fleets were funded and built with the massive global telecommunications industry in mind. Now that they are built and in the sky (with the exception of O3b), we are learning something new: to stimulate demand requires imagination, not a launch pad.  Here is where this will either rise of fall.

The industry needs to show its customers how to innovate around the many possibilities of Ka-band and broadband. The broadband economy is profoundly changing the way we consume media. And it is just the start. It is also about to alter the way we function economically. Broadband will soon re-energise our businesses, cities and ways of life. It is the direct line into the global economy. Each person I interviewed agrees.

So do leaders of nations.

They are ensuring that broadband is rolled out in order for them to remain competitive. In the case of Finland and Australia, national governments intervened to ensure access. This should give you a hint of how broadband is viewed. It will literally change the fate of peoples. Recently, Eutelsat announced projects to ensure that Ireland, along with regions of Spain and Italy, have sufficient broadband.

Clearly, the affluent will fill their broadband gaps and satellite will play a role. Most agreed that the adoption of broadband in the more affluent parts of the world is a “no brainer”. It is rolling along heartily. It is also making its way to vertical industries such as broadcasting.

During World Teleport Association’s Industry Dialogue series at IBC, Morton Brandstrup, who heads news technology for TV2 in Denmark, told an audience how a creative use of Ka-band services has transformed the way that the anchor of  TV2 news presents newscasts. “The ability to include social media and perform nightly newscasts in remote locations changes broadcast for us,” he said.

A bigger story is what satellites will do for those who are separated by the “Digital Divide.”

Unreached, or nearly, by fibre and adequate speeds, broadband satellites are a key to economic viability. If broadband satellites are not revolutionary here, as the heads of at least five broadband fleet operations claimed them not to be during World Satellite Business Week, they certainly are an evolution spiked with  vitamins and growth hormones. If pricing is aligned with the ability of the markets to pay, consumption for educational networks, healthcare and governance will spike.

None of this will occur without bumps and bruises. So, if you can stand to watch “sausage being made,” watch the Ka-band evolution take its course.

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