Supporting Hybrid Networks
Not only have some of the major satellite service providers come onboard with hybrid solutions, but equipment manufacturers have also recognized the revenue-generating potential of this delivery offering. As makers of the Fazzt Digital Delivery System--which offers distribution of digital data through satellite networks--Kencast, for example, has recognized the benefits of hybrid networks. In fact, "We released a version of Fazzt for hybrid network content delivery four years ago," says William Steele, Kencast's president and CEO. This version of Fazzt allows users to make upstream data requests over the conventional terrestrial Internet. The file downloads, which are typically much larger, are then delivered over satellite.
"The key to this integration is TCP/IP [Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol]," Steele adds. "When TCP/IP is the standard used, it really doesn't matter if the data is moving over satellite or terrestrial connections."
Beyond providing more opportunities for Kencast, the trend toward hybrid networks is good for the entire satellite services industry. "The truth is that satellites alone are best suited for one-way applications," Steele says. "This is why two-way products ... have had such a tough time of it. By embracing hybrid networks, satellite service providers are changing this equation for the better. Thanks to terrestrial return, two-way applications with a satellite component are economically justifiable for business users."
Improving Satellite Service
Mobile Satellite Ventures' (MSV) offers satellite-based mobile communications solutions through North America, Central America, the Caribbean, Hawaii and parts of South America. Among its customer base are trucking fleets, ships and emergency service units.
Unfortunately, MSV subscribers sometimes have trouble connecting in urban areas, thanks to signal blocking-buildings. This is why MSV's next generation of services will use higher power satellite spotbeams with terrestrial-base stations. Combined, this Federal Communications Commission-approved hybrid network will give MSV users reliable nationwide coverage, and quite possibly makes MSV's service attractive to police, fire and emergency services personnel.
"For mobile satellite communications to truly fulfill its promise, we need to add a terrestrial component to the system," says MSV President and COO Carson Agnew. "This is not a new concept. XM and Sirius Satellite Radio also use terrestrial repeaters to bolster their main satellite-based transmissions."
By adding terrestrial-base stations, MSV will be able to use handsets that are "virtually indistinguishable from conventional cell phones," Agnew says. "Moreover, creating such 'hybrid handsets' should only cost about $10 more per unit, while being able to tap into terrestrial coverage should help us keep our rates down."
In addition, Agnew adds that using a hybrid network approach "is more than just logical." "It should revitalize the MSS [Mobile Satellite System] market, because it will let us combine the advantages of satellite with terrestrial wireless. Meanwhile, users will win too, because they'll get better, more reliable service in a more user-friendly package."
Hybrid Is The Way Of The Future
For many companies within the satellite arena, adopting hybrid networks has been a sound business decision. Going the hybrid network route results in more effective use of each company's satellite resources. It also lets them choose terrestrial fiber or wireless when it makes economic sense.
By having the freedom to choose, satellite service providers are mirroring the choices available to their customers. This matters, because customers have no sympathy for service providers who do not offer choice, especially when the lack of choice ends up costing customers more.
This situation is why the adoption of hybrid networks is such an important advance for the satellite services industry. Satellite companies are realizing that when it comes to terrestrial transmission, it is better to join them--or take them over--than to try to beat them.
James Careless is Via Satellite's Senior Contributing Editor.