Satellite Industry Must Fight For Role In Broadband Future
What is the likely role of satellite infrastructure for next-generation broadband deployment? Not much, if the answer is based on recent reports produced in the United Kingdom.
Next-generation networks generally are defined as the high-capacity digital networks of the future, but the precise amount of bandwidth necessary for a system to be classified as a high-capacity system is defined in various ways. The prevailing definition is based on extremely high capacity used by intensive users.
Policymakers around the world are analyzing what national steps are needed to encourage deployment of these high-capacity broadband networks. One of the more detailed reviews is underway in the United Kingdom, which ranks first among major economies in terms of availability of broadband and intends to stay in that position.
The U.K. national communications regulator, Ofcom, has engaged significantly in efforts to review and encourage next-generation networks, but the terms of this review seem to exclude satellite services. In mid-2005, the agency issued a consultation on next-generation networks that managed not to mention satellite infrastructure at all. Perhaps due to the lack of such mention, the satellite industry failed to submit any comments on its role in the evolution of these networks.
In March 2006, Ofcom issued a statement on developing a regulatory framework for next-generation networks â€” again with no mention of the satellite industry. In November 2006, Ofcom again discussed the â€œregulatory challenges posed by next-generation access networksâ€ in a document addressed to all who have an interest in the telecoms industry in the United Kingdom. This document mentioned that there likely will be numerous alternative options for deployment, but the satellite option is mentioned exactly once.
By contrast, the major industry group fostering next-generation networks mentions satellite twice as frequently â€” but then rejects satelliteâ€™s contributions. The United Kingdomâ€™s Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) issued a hefty report in mid-April, â€œPipe Dreams? Prospects for Next Generation Broadband Deployment in the U.K.â€ The report states that satellite has little role in this future network.
Carefully written, the report contains a curious tension in its broadband assessment. Throughout, the BSG claims uncertainties remain whether significantly greater access speeds will deliver economic gains and that the evidence to assess the public value of new networks is not yet there. Nevertheless, the BSG argues that the U.K. government has only a â€œlimited window of opportunity over the next 12-24 monthsâ€ to develop and implement new policies and regulations.
It may seem odd to maintain there is limited evidence that an expensive new infrastructure is needed but also to argue that government action must quickly be initiated. The â€œ12-24 monthâ€ period appears to be pulled out of a hat.
There is no tension, however, in the two paragraphs of the 44-page report that look at satellite infrastructure. Satellite products are â€œrelatively narrowband,â€ according to the BSG. They suffer from latency and are likely to remain â€œrelatively expensive.â€ The BSG concludes that â€œsatellite is, therefore, likely to remain an important in-fill solution for locations that terrestrial solutions cannot serve and is unlikely to provide an end-to-end solution for next-generation broadband.â€
The BSG is a major U.K. industry-government forum for analyzing and fostering broadband developments, with nearly 400 companies and organizations among its members. The groupâ€™s opinions and advice presumably carry substantial weight, and this kind of report is not good for the satellite industry.
Satellite manufacturers have estimated that terrestrial infrastructure in general will not reach nearly 20 percent of populations. The terrestrial infrastructure in the United Kingdom reaches closer to 99 percent but is unlikely to reach the same amount with what the BSG and Ofcom want out of next-generation broadband. Due to this, it seems too early and far too narrow-sighted to assume from the outset that satellite will have a very limited role in that next generation of broadband.
But this is the view that U.K. policymakers likely are to retain, especially if no one is telling them about the role satellite can play in the future mix. If the satellite industry wants a role in U.K. next-generation networks, it had better start saying so.