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By | September 20, 2000

      In his keynote address to the recent Satel Conseil conference in Paris, John F Connolly, CEO of GE Americom, noted that his company is now in “the upper tier of industry”, and the “the satellite businesses were now powerful institutions”. The Internet, particularly, is now “satellite’s sweet spot”, with service revenues expecting double-digit annual growth (15 per cent per cent was specified), to reach $230 billion (E269.44 billion) by 2004.

      But service providers must offer solutions rather than just lease transponders. Connolly pointed out that the need for Open Skies still persists: the WTO/NAFTA agreements do not guarantee these, but are rather selective. Furthermore, Connolly accused paper satellite proposals at the ITU/IFRB of actually wanting to hamper free trade by clogging up the registration system with “bogus paperwork”. The ITU had to redefine itself as a customer-centred organisation. But auctions (or fees) which have been proving useful in the US, have been rejected by the majority of ITU Member States, which in turn still control the majority of telecom organisations.

      GE Americom is now well on its way to becoming a global player rather than a US domestic cable-feed system, even though the presence on the recent Ariane 5 launch carried GE-7 (as well as Astra-2B), which as a replacement for GE’s C-1 performs just this task.

      In Kourou, French Guyana, Daniel Harel, Americom’s vice president for Space Systems and Operations, noted that his company’s recent finalisation of the purchase of Columbia Communications gives GE Americom two slots over each of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans currently occupied by TDRS satellites. These will provide the missing intercontinental connectivity which the company needs to bridge its existing landmass coverage of the US, South America (a 20 per cent share in Nahuelsat plus GE-4/6), Europe (GE-1E which shares a satellite with NSAB’s Sirius-2) and soon Asian regions (GE-1A/2A). The ‘oceanic’ TDRS satellites will eventually be replaced by an “I” series (for International) of GE satellites at 172/174 degrees West and 37.5/47 degrees West, said Harel.

      Reverting to Satel Conseil, an overview by Yutaka Nagai, chief technical officer for Japan’s Jsat, was noteworthy for its clarity. Nagai felt that LEO broadband systems (SkyBridge, Teledisc) suffered from the same top-heavy investment problems and vulnerability to expanding terrestrial services as did the Big LEO mobile voice constellations. Nagai’s preferences were for GEO broadband and mobile systems (latency would be no big problem, he said). Preferably, they should employ simple bent-pipe designs; on-board switching for multibeam coverage, of which Spaceway and AstroLink are very proud, “may not justify its cost and risk. The bent-pipe iSky, previously Ka-Star and now apparently WildBlue after a third mutation, looks a safer bet.

      GEO regional mobile systems (AceS, Thuraya) would also offer less risk than the LEO systems. Incidentally, Inmarsat refused this week to confirm or deny its choice of leased capacity on Thuraya as a trailblazer for I-4 B-GAN.

      On the final day of Satel Conseil, Michael Garreau of Intelsat – now relegated to number three organisation worldwide in number of satellites in orbit – made a pathetic plea to be “treated as any other commercial company” (it plans to privatise soon and have an IPO in about a year’s time). But currently there is continual barracking from the US Congress and also from competitors such as PanAmSat, which is complaining that a privatised Intelsat would still retain some privileges, such as waivers of various technical rules. Indeed, Intelsat is still seen as having an ‘affiliate’ relationship with New Skies Satellite, its spun-off competitor. Contrast might be made with the privatisation last year of London- registered Inmarsat, with little intervention from the UK government beyond ‘Good Luck’. But, said Garreau, Intelsat will lose much if it quit Washington.

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