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Global Vsat Review: Raising the VSAT Bar (Chart)

By | August 10, 2000

      By David Hartshorn

      Forget carpal-tunnel syndrome. By now, many of us have succumbed to a far more pernicious professional malady: bar-chart saturation. We have become blasé–jaded even–when presented with long rows of brightly-colored rectangles that ascend like stair steps from the horizontal axis.

      But fortunately there’s a cure. I discovered it this summer in Singapore where, in conjunction with the Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Conference, the Global VSAT Forum conducted a Regional VSAT Workshop.

      Having tested the workshop attendees’ endurance with two hours’ worth of my own bar charts, I introduced my co-presenter–Stéphane Chenard, executive vice president and chief analyst of Euroconsult–who was also armed to the teeth with data points such as: the short-term global demand forecast for transponder capacity is up, up, up (~5,000, 6,000, and 7,000 36-MHz equivalent transponders in 2000, 2001 and 2002, respectively); the increased performance of VSAT terminals is driving the number of voice circuits per 36-MHz equivalent transponder up, up, up (~2,000, 12,000, and 19,000 in ’90, ’94 and 2000, respectively); and satellite use in developing regions is–you guessed it–up, up, up (~600, 2,000, and 5,500 36-MHz transponder equivalents in ’87, ’97 and 2007, respectively).

      Stronger demand, increased performance, more adoption of satellite solutions…excellent news to be sure. But it was the next slide that really got my attention.

      Stéphane forecasted that between 1997 and 2007–while satellite use in developing and developed regions will nearly triple and double, respectively–there will be a reversal of the proportion of service types loading the global transponder supply. In other words, whereas most satellite-based customers have been video users in recent years, most transponder loading will soon be dictated by telecom applications.

      Soon indeed. No sooner had I left the workshop than I was approached by an associate from Binariang, the Malaysia-based satellite operator, who told me that most of Binariang’s traffic was already generated by demand from telecom customers.

      I found his insight remarkable. As recently as the mid-’90s, most satellite operators were saying that transponder bookings–broadcast vs. telecom–were characteristically split with a ratio of approximately 80:20 or 70:30, in broadcast’s favor. After hearing about Binariang’s experience, I wondered whether the telecom shift was limited to Southeast Asia.

      Fast forward one week. The location was Miami, and the event was Global VSAT Forum 2000–Latin America, a new regional conference where more than 100 executives, including many from Latin America’s public and private sectors gathered to track the latest VSAT industry trends.

      While chairing a space-segment session, I mentioned the Malaysian operator’s comment and asked the panelists whether their experience in Latin America bore any similarity.

      Not only was the answer a resounding yes, but one operator went one step further, saying 100 percent of their new telecom business was being generated by customers seeking satellite-delivered IP connectivity.

      Reinforcing this message was Simon Bull, senior analyst at Comsys, who recounted how he recently undertook to determine what impact demand for IP-based services was having on the signing of new VSAT contracts.

      The results were just as dramatic: The percentage of VSAT contracts signed that were driven by demand for IP-based connectivity was 0 percent in 1995, 1 percent in 1997, 3 percent in 1998, 25 percent in 1999, and a whopping 98 percent in 2000.

      Such findings are echoed by other reports. DTT Consulting recently revealed that satellite delivery of IP-based services increased more than 800 percent during the past two years.

      One of the largest global satellite operators in the world reported earlier this year that the volume of IP-based traffic that they handled last year quadrupled over 1998.

      And if I had any remaining doubts on the subject, they were addressed during my flight from Miami back to London. I was flipping through the pages of the latest edition of Business Week, and came across a full-page ad for a direct-to-home, interactive, broadband, IP-based VSAT service.

      The advertiser was one of two major players in the process of rolling out such services. America Online and Microsoft have each aligned themselves with these contenders. Units have already been installed, used and passed muster with customers.

      Just one of these VSAT service providers is projecting that they will sign up one million U.S. customers before the end of 2002. That alone would represent four times the total global installed base of interactive VSATs. Add to that the U.S. customers won over by their competitor. Plus Phase 2 sales in Western Europe. Plus expansion into other regions…

      I think we’ll need a bigger bar chart.

      David Hartshorn is the Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum. For more information, e-mail:

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