By James Careless
From the Americas to the Middle East, satellite services continue to increase profit margins for many doing business within certain regions of the world. Even during the challenging economic times of the past few years, some satellite-enabled applications have proven to be real moneymakers. Topping the list are emergency communications, IP data/broadband, digital signage, satellite telephony and entertainment, to name but a few. For the details on a region-by-region basis, read on.
From the northern reaches of Canada to the southern tip of South America, this region of the world continues to grow and at times lead in satellite-enabled products and services. In Canada and the United States, voice communications, IP data transmissions, Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) television and satellite radio applications top the list of services for businesses and consumers.
In North America, the urgent demand for improved emergency response capabilities and increased homeland security also is boosting the satellite applications market. These increases are partially due to the war on terror; however, natural disasters such as California's recent brush fires also fuel this growing appetite for reliable two-way communications via satellite. Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV), which sells and supports Inmarsat-based portable communications equipment, saw many of its satellite terminals deployed during last year's hurricanes, brush fires and the blackout, which crippled the Eastern seaboard. "We got orders for more units in 2003 than we ever have in the past five years," says Carson Agnew, MSV's president and COO. "Part of our business was driven by new satellite-based radio products for police and fire. These terminals provide reliable long-distance communications wherever first responders are."
Satellite industry watchers should keep an eye on "mobile communications centers" such as the InfraLynx, Bickford Linx and the Raytheon First Responder. All three are truck- based radio units that provide on-the-scene telephone, interoperable radio and even two-way video communications using top-mounted fold-down satellite antennas. Three First Responders are currently in Iraq, providing communications between aid workers and U.S. headquarters via satellite. Meanwhile, the InfraLynx provided on-site communications at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. And, the American Red Cross purchased the Linx for mobile communications during U.S.-based disasters.
South America, though currently undergoing economic recovery, is home to profitable satellite-enabled applications of satellite broadband Internet access, distance learning, telemedicine and rural telephony. Kingston inmedia for example, a provider of satellite broadband distribution solutions, is making its mark in Brazil. Rather than bringing signals into the country, the company is carrying Brazil's Record TV network to Europe via satellite. Record TV's signals are being downlinked from Hispasat 1C and then uplinked to Astra 2B by Kingston inmedia. From there, Record TV is made available to Sky Digital subscribers. "Hispanic and Latin American communities across Europe can now enjoy news, drama and documentaries in Portugese, live and direct from the heart of Brazil," says Aroldo Martins, Record TV's managing director. "We're particularly proud to be the only South American broadcaster making its programming available to the U.K. on the Sky Digital platform."
On both continents, DBS television has garnered millions of subscribers. This said, DBS reception has been generally restricted to homeowners and those apartment dwellers who could mount antennas on their balconies. "You do see buildings with one dish on the roof serving multiple subscribers via coax, but this is limited to smaller buildings/condos," says Allen Wald, director of sales and marketing for Foxcom, a maker of fiber optic transmission products. The reason is time and money. Conventional distribution systems are "more labor intensive to install, require more active amplifiers, plus costly and complex headends."
Recognizing an opportunity, Foxcom tackled the challenge of distributing DBS signals to larger garden-style apartments and condo towers. By integrating a few satellite antennas into a Foxcom distribution system, building managers can give their residents access to satellite TV without cluttering up their balconies. "We are seeing more opportunities coming up in MDU [multiple unit dwelling] distribution of DBS and CATV," says Wald. "We are active all over the world but the U.S. is still our hottest market."
Meanwhile, XM Satellite Radio recently topped the one million-subscriber mark in the United States, while Sirius Satellite Radio hit 200,000 subs, proving people will pay for commercial-free audio. Both companies are now applying to the Canadian government to expand north of the Canada-U.S. border.