By Nick Mitsis
High in the Peruvian Mountains, satellite technology became a life saving tool for a wounded Israeli hiker, two friends and members of an isolated village. According to Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd., a group of hikers decided to explore the trails and take in the vistas of the Peruvian Mountain country, but none expected this experience would end in a fight for survival in one of the most rural areas of Peru. The excitement surrounding the three friends as they trekked through the South American mountains turned into a nightmare as one of them, Or Aricha, slipped and fell down the mountain, becoming immobile from head and leg injuries. Realizing the severity of the situation, Aricha's friend Gena Kravtsov walked for five hours to the nearest village, which luckily was outfitted with satellite phone services, contacted the Israeli Embassy in Lima and a rescue party brought a happy ending to this story 24 hours later.
That satellite uplink from the rural village atop the Peruvian Mountains to the country's capital city ran 22,300 miles via a Gilat-established system. Working with Peru's national telecommunications investment fund Fondo de Inversion en Telecommunicaciones del Peru (FITEL), Gilat established a telephony network to more than 6,000 rural communities throughout the South American country.
The Big Four Remain Lucrative
Recognizing the lucrative, potential markets like South America offer satellite companies, Gilat, continued to further establish its presence throughout this region and beyond. In addition to Peru, Gilat also is established within Colombia. Last year, the company won a contract to deploy more than 500 tele-centers and a 3,000-site Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) rural telephony network within this country. This $65 million system is in addition to the already present 7,415 sites that include 670 Internet sites, serving four million people.
"Even though we have seen a decline within the VSAT market due to the global economic state, our recent Colombia deal has been the largest financial deal for Gilat in recent years," says Gil Shachman, director of marketing telephony for Gilat. "There has been a major change in service needs when we talk about rural telephony. Three years ago, it was strictly telephony service, now it is telephony and Internet service," he adds.
Seeing the profitability of these new service needs, Gilat recently deployed a fixed rural satellite telephony network to serve 170 communities throughout Nicaragua and established a 200-site broadband satellite communications network in Haiti. Likewise, Gilat has established similar systems in Mexico, Asia and Africa.
"Gilat has been a market leader holding more than 70 percent of the rural telephony business, but given the current global economic state, it will be interesting to see how they maintain their strength and profitability," says Greg Caressi, research director of information and communications technology practice for Frost and Sullivan. "We see Asia as holding the biggest market growth potential, Africa also is growing and there is also some activity within Eastern Europe and Russia," he adds.
Hughes Network Systems (HNS) has witnessed a growth in demand for rural telephony throughout Africa and other regions of the world. The company, for example, has seen a need for expanding basic telephony VSAT applications within Gabon, where a network of 50 sites will provide voice communications to those living in rural areas. "Recognizing the market's changing needs, HNS is positioning itself primarily as a provider of broadband services and products, not merely a rural telephony provider. We are more frequently bundling both voice and data services as we deploy our systems throughout these regions," says Ramesh Ramaswamy, senior director of international sales and marketing for Asia- Pacific for HNS. "We are seeing a demand for high-speed Internet services in rural areas and can overlay voice service onto the Internet backbone systems so both services are offered," he says.
In Australia, for example, HNS is bringing broadband access to more than 10,000 sites, linking farmers throughout the remote areas of the country. "A significant trend we are seeing is that more and more countries are increasing their emphasis on establishing networks to provide enhanced communication access," he says.
In addition to Australia and other areas throughout Asia, HNS recently expanded a communications network in Brazil. Working with the System for the Vigilance of the Amazon (SIVAM), HNS added new broadband applications, including file transfer, Voice over IP, fax and video broadcasting. SIVAM is a communication infrastructure established by the Brazilian government, which collects data from satellite, aerial sensing and surveillance, fixed and mobile radar, radio-localization, meteorological stations and altitude weather balloons. The data collected helps detect environmental changes in the Amazon Basin, such as deforestation and illegal airstrips.
"Typically, development into rural areas has been driven by government subsidies fueled by the need to provide a better communications infrastructure to their citizens," Ramaswamy says. "The payphone service within the Amazon jungle network is an excellent example of that."