Satellite Broadband Pivoting to be More Than a Last Resort Technology

Satellite broadband panel

Satellite broadband panel at SATELLITE 2014. Photo: Kenny Bordelon

[Via Satellite 03-13-2014] The opportunities for satellite broadband are growing at a rapid rate, transforming it from a “back up” to a premier option for communication technology. Led by Nina Beebe, director for emerging markets at Access Partnership, executives from O3bViaSat, Hughes, Inmarsat and Telespazio discussed these opportunities, as well as the state of the satellite broadband market in Wednesday’s “Satellite Broadband: Moving from the Margins into the Mainstream” panel.

Leo Mondale, managing director of growth, management and support at Inmarsat began the discussion by highlighting some of Inmarsat’s recent endeavors, including the successful completion of in-orbit testing of its first Global Xpress (GX) satellite. The full constellation of three GX satellites is on schedule to be fully deployed by the end of 2014. Following suit, Paul Gaske, executive vice president and general manager, North American Division at Hughes, added that the company is noticing an increase in existing customers. He shared Hughes’ deals with both Xplornet in Canada, Avanti in the Middle East, and its part in launching Telefonica in four South American countries.

Accomplishments from ViaSat included doubled revenue over the course of three years and Jet Blue’s launch of Fly-Fi, a cost effective in-flight Wi-Fi service. Fly-Fi brings travelers real broadband Internet in the sky and the same at-home Internet speeds to which they are accustomed. “It’s so cost effective that they’re offering it free for first few months,” said Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO at ViaSat. Excitedly, Steve Collar, CEO at O3b Networks announced O3b’s affordable satellite trunking service, O3bTrunk Plus. This true fiber alternative was designed to boost existing link capacities to rival the affordability and latency of fiber.

Marco Brancati, connectivity business unit senior vice president at Telespazio, jokingly added that Telespazio is looking forward to a busy year, as a result of hard work by the other companies represented on the panel. Additionally, Telespazio has signed an agreement with Ericsson to expand their current service offering to include MPEG-4 AVC HD and SD channels, while still maintaining the existing MPEG-2 SD channels.

Moving away from individual accomplishments, the panelists discussed the definition of broadband. According to Gaske, broadband is in the eye of the beholder. “Depending on who you are and where you stand, your view of broadband is different,” he said.

“It would depend heavily on the reliability and certainty of what consumers are going to have and also where they can have it,” added Mondale.

In describing the overall goals of satellite broadband, it was clear that each of the panelists ultimately want their customers to receive a good end product. “We’re trying to give people a service so [they] don’t feel like they’re getting less than they would get normally,” stated Mondale.

While this may be true, Beebe posed a questioned about the general consumer response to the capacity challenge. For ViaSat, a company that became the first satellite provider ever to be included in the annual Federal Communications Commission benchmarking study of broadband speeds, debuting in the top spot for exceeding advertised speeds, it is by enforcing capacity limits that the company is able to properly serve a set amount of customers. Similarly, Gaske added the idea of the binge viewer, an individual who watches a great amount of video content in a short period of time. The so-called “Netflix binges” are one popular form of the practice. “You’re not going to get that with data caps in place,” said Gaske.  “In the long run, people are going to want more. This race is going to go on forever.”

With Hughes’ recent dealings with Telefonica and Avanti, it is evident that there is a market for consumer broadband outside of North America. “There’s a lot less structure in emerging markets,” said Gaske. “Our solution fits well with that: very large trunks. That’s the only way to provide good 3G service over broadband. Satellite always assumes these areas are preserved for satellite, but satellite isn’t good enough. We need to meet expectations. It’s about making sure we can supply enough bandwidth. It’s an integrated satellite terrestrial puzzle to make sure we can provide.”

Although there are opportunities for expansion, there was still a question of how to determine whether or not to enter a market. According to Gaske, it generally requires good support from the government and local businesses because it is a very complex process. The opportunities exist, but it is not a cakewalk to reach them.

“For us, you have to be bringing something to open the doors…something of value,” said Collar. “You have to be ready to engage on a basis of “This is what we can bring. How can we partner?”

With the rapid launch of powerful satellites, the industry is becoming better equipped to provide broadband services on a global scale. While some do not foresee broadband being comparable to terrestrial alternatives in urban areas, the advancements in technology allow broadband to be much more than just a remedy for remote countries.

“Mainstream is moving,” said Mondale as he discussed the future. “It’s up to us to remain relevant in that mainstream. I think that some of the things that people take as different today are subject to change. Even though some developments create great opportunity, they can go in interesting directions. It’s a great challenge and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

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