Matching market with satellite services
| Nov. 27, 2013, 9:41 a.m.
By Dr Dawie de Wet, CEO at Q-KON
It is in our nature. We follow examples, we follow the way of yesterday and we follow what has been there before us. And when we don’t do this, we call these moments “innovation”, eureka! brilliant!…. Interesting how we celebrate innovation and creative thought only after it had to stand the test of all the “can’t be done”, “won’t work”, “was never done” critics and proved that it can work, that it does bring value and that it will serve the market.
So cable was first, telephone cables, then modems, then data cables, then fibre cables… and somewhere along the line satellite also started. Always seen as an alternative to cable, always compared to cable…. and only when it proves it self “against all odds” does the user community accept satellite as a credible and sustainable telecommunication medium.
Perhaps we should consider where satellite fits into the market and the landscape of user applications. We do know it is not perfect and can’t do everything for everybody; we also know it is continuing to improve and major industry leaders are investing big money to continue the development of this remarkable technology…. $189.5bn invested (www.sia.org) in the industry during the last year two years to quote a reference.
As a reference for this discussion we will structure the market in different segments based on a “capacity” vs “volume” approach.
“Capacity” in this context is defined as the size or data rate of the telecommunication circuits with large bulk trunk circuits at the top of the pyramid and broadband consumer services at the bottom levels.
“Volume” is defined as the scale of the potential market, i.e. the quantity of the users in a particular market segment, with lower quantity large capacity links and large numbers of broadband services.
If we do this with a bit of “artistic freedom” and not with the precise discipline of an engineering critic, we can then reach an understanding of the market. With this general understanding of the market sector we can now match the sectors to satellite technology as a means to meet the respective market requirements.
Starting from the top, the high capacity point-to-point links typically required for international connectivity, national and regional networks used to be implemented using satellite trunk circuits. These satellite earth stations were visually impressive and used very large antenna installation of typically 9.3m. For the most part, these have been discontinued.
The reason why the majority of trunk access circuits are no longer operating over satellite technology is because these are high capacity, point-to-point connectivity circuits, which is far more effective to implement using fibre circuits. As the rollout of international and national fibre networks is growing in the Africa market, these satellite trunk circuits will be replaced with faster, more efficient and cheaper fibre circuits.
Next level is enterprise wide-area-networks, which include financial, enterprise, mining and industrial operations with head office to form corporate data networks. These networks typically include a number of operational locations all integrated into a single wide-area-network – often with data centre services as part of the network.
These networks fall into two categories, those sites that have access to fibre networks and the more remote sites which, as yet, have no access to fibre networks The technology of choice is also relatively simple, if you can get access to fibre then it is preferable to use fibre networks. If the mining operation is too remote, or the industrial plant too far from the nearest fibre node, then satellite can be effectively used to implement these networks. In fact the very high reliability of satellite services leads to satellite services often deployed to implement secondary or redundant service to ensure stringent network availability requirements are met.
To complete our understanding we should note that the previous two market sectors are mostly implemented using C-band satellite access technologies. C-band satellite services are less susceptible to weather conditions, it uses relative large antennas (2.4m or 3.6m); transmission efficiencies are good resulting in more cost effective rates based.
Moving down the pyramid to lower utilisation rate services and an increase of market size we define the “business broadband” sector that includes retail, financial ATM points, access to medium business etc. For this sector ADSL services or 3G mobile data services are often the technology of choice. This decision is mostly based on the mentality of “what is known is better than what is new” and often results in poor and costly services. Satellite access services are a particular attractive option to provide extremely reliable services with a well-defined quality-of-service level.
A very effective example to demonstrate this point is financial ATM service points. An ATM requires very high availability data communication at a relative low data rate. Meeting this requirement using ADSL services lead to poor availability and high cost while using mobile 3G is cost effective yet cannot deliver guaranteed communication due to network congestion or lack of signal coverage.
The additional advantage of satellite networks that it can be implemented as a single aggregated network among the remote locations, rather than multiples of individual links, provides a particular cost effective scenario to implement networks with a large number of locations such as retail outlets. These examples illustrate that satellite technology is an attractive option to provide effective business broadband services for selected application.
Pro-user Broadband Services
Satellite technologies are also now available at price points, which makes is feasible to offer services to the larger professional user market sectors. The “pro-user” sector is much larger in quantity than the business broadband sector and incorporates the “small-office-home-office” users, the small business market and also the “IP broadcast” sector. “IP broadcast” refers to applications such as networks to update digital media boards, or one-way corporate video distribution networks. This sector also includes providing Internet to schools and various government applications i.e. election networks. The majority of this sector is effectively serviced using ADSL technologies where available and in areas where the networks are not prone to infrastructure damage. Within this context satellite provides a powerful alternative for locations that cannot get reliable ADSL services or for applications that require large amounts of streaming of data files from a central location to remote sites such as corporate video and multimedia networks.
In conclusion, this “capacity vs volume” perspective and the consideration of different market sectors can provide a valuable reference to determine the technology of choice. Although cable networks are the standard reference, it is clear that certain applications and market sectors can be more effectively serviced using satellite networks. This is provided the satellite network architectures are specifically developed in terms of performance and cost to service that particular user requirement.