Money Flowing In
According to Ulrich Kiebler, former president of ND Satcom Abu Dhabi, the opening up of the Middle East in terms of licensing and deregulation of VSAT applications is well underway, with the main drivers being the governmental and defense sectors, followed closely by GSM and oil sector applications. ND Satcom already has installed 1,800 DVB-RCS terminals in the region. "Already opened are Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and other countries will certainly follow," says Kiebler, who projected strong annual VSAT sales growth in the Middle East. ND Satcom also provided Streamlink Communications, an ISP based in Kuwait, with its Skyarcs, Skywan and DVB one-way platform along with flyaways and mobile solutions. With its hub located in Dubai at the Etisalat Teleport, Streamlink activated one of the first DVB-RCS services in the region.
UDgateways from France-based UDcast offer virtual private network security and data acceleration for the system. According to UDcast CEO, Hubert Zimmerman, the growing demand for VSAT and DVB-RCS services in this region primarily is driven by the presence of multinational military forces and new governments in Iraq and Afghanistan that are actively engaged in stability operations and the rebuilding of communications infrastructure. "The demand for the infrastructure always existed, but today with the politics changed there is a flow of investment coming from western countries, and in particular, the United States," he says.
In Afghanistan, 38 provincial capitals are linked via a mesh VSAT system which includes a node in Hong Kong to provide Internet and Voice over IP (VoIP) services, according to David Hershberg, CEO of New York-based Globecomm Systems Inc. "In Afghanistan, we discovered that they were operating a number of CDMA mobile switches serving "telecom islands" that had no connectivity beyond the local service area. Interconnecting those switches and linking them to long-distance circuits via satellite became part of our assignment. What started out as a private network for government now includes the backbone of a public telephone system for which we provide bandwidth, trunking, backhaul of traffic to Kabul and international voice, video and Internet service," says Hershberg.
In addition, Globecomm is installing more than 300 smaller VSATs that will provide VoIP and Internet services for the country's legislative districts," Hershberg says. "Basically, they're running the government of Afghanistan by satellite, though we also supplied fiber connections to the main government building in Kabul and broadband microwave to other sites. This is a modern, IP-based system that five years ago could never have been completed within the time and budget constraints. It was a great accomplishment to provide a complete telephone infrastructure for an entire country in a very challenging environment," he says.
Maintaining the network also provides a host of ongoing challenges. Many parts of Afghanistan lack adequate power sources, so Globecomm installed more that 600 generators that have to be maintained and fueled and add to that a whole host of transportation and security considerations. "After so many years of turmoil, there was also a lack of trained local technicians," Hershberg says. "Working with our local partner, Watan Telecom, we have been building the capacity of local employees to deploy, maintain and operate the systems. There are now more and more qualified people coming out of the schools and most of the locals are bright and eager to learn," he says.
While broader regional privatization of telecom is going to be good for business in general, Hershberg does not see any fundamental changes taking place other than more space segment becoming available, which could lower the prices. As far as hybrid Wimax or G3 type CDMA wireless systems are concerned, these can be easily added to almost any satellite terminal. "We are providing service out of Dubai and Hong Kong for Internet and VoIP services. Using a shared hub in the region reduces the up front cost for our customers," Hershberg says.
While there are signs that terrestrial wireless service providers and fiber-based solutions are on the fast track in India and the Middle East, the region remains a golden opportunity for satellite service providers. DTH satellite services may be constrained by household income, but income has not inhibited a rapid spurt of DTH-related growth. And at the same time, enterprise sector opportunities remain plentiful in this region.