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By | May 9, 2001

      The second plenary, on the European Galileo satellite navigation programme, was held shortly after the successful second meeting of the EC’s Transport Council (see Interspace 717), where initial funding was agreed.

      Moderator Glen Gibbons (editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World) reminded speakers that the US DoD would soon have new civil and military codes available for its GPS-Block IIF and -III to compete with Galileo. Gibbon also floated the idea of orbiting a “half constellation” of 15 satellites to help validate the project.

      Claudio Mastracci, director of ESA’s applications programmes, acknowledged that plenty remained to be done before December. This would be when Calls for Tender for the C/D Phase had to not just issued, but responded to; in fact replies were wanted by November. More time might be needed for better preparation, but it probably would not be available. Also, an entity had to be set up to manage the bid process. Moreover, the question of private sector involvement (how much and by when) had not been entirely solved.

      Mastracci said that the “social benefits” of Galileo (E81 million in 2008, E2.08 billion by 2020) would be “additional” to those coming from the continuing use of GPS. But he thought that detailed negotiations with major banks would be needed to secure funding.

      Martin Bruns, who works on Galileo for the EC, pointed out that a real competition for the hardware contracts “was not anticipated”. System management structure needed more work, he thought.

      Martine Kubler-Mamlouk, from France’s Transport Ministry, argued that, “We mustn’t end up with different projects based on differing criteria.” This could have been a reference to possible military use of Galileo. It drew an immediate reaction from Joseph Canny, who works with the US Department of Transportation. He claims to “have spent his life working against the DoD”. He feared that there were “no mechanisms in place to prevent Ministers of Defence from getting their hands on Galileo”. Kubler-Mamlouk was quite clear in her own mind that Galileo was not meant to be a military system: the absence of nuclear-blast detectors proved this.

      From the audience, Stephane Chenard raised the spectre of competition from, say, the Japanese, “Would Europe’s window of opportunity close around 2008?” Bruns foresaw the possibility of state-funded competitive systems from India and China.

      Third session

      The final plenary session, on Emerging Applications and Services, might have suffered from last minute substitutions (notably from Romain Bausch of SES and of Giuliano Berretta of Eutelsat), but moderator Chris Forrester, editor of Interspace, managed to smooth over their absences.

      Roger Rusch, of consultants Tel-Astra, felt that despite the downfall of Big LEO satellite phones, Inmarsat I-4 would be “a good match for expected medium-rate IP demand”. The aero-data market “was no big deal: a mere 2 per cent of current Inmarsat traffic”. Digital satellite radio looked promising. Broadband systems were competing with cable, already cheap with prices declining by 30 per cent a year. Future capacity demand would grow, aided by advanced television systems like TiVo and in the future by digital HDTV; when it finally arrives it will need a six-fold expansion in bandwidth.

      Jean-Paul Hoffman of SES, which “aimed to be the largest operator on the planet”, said that SES-Global was so far only an “investment vehicle”. The return-link-by-phone Astra- Net system was set to reach 350 per cent of its 1999 take-up by year-end. BBI Ka-band systems, initially based on bent-pipe Star technology, would graduate to full Mesh connectivity with on-board processing, allowing “Antone to contact everyone”; but Ka-band terminal prices would be crucial. “We are hoping for GSM-type licences”, he said.

      Thuraya’s Saeed Al Hamli said his company had currently 36 service providers signed up from 99 countries, and 18 shareholders. The satellite can provide over 13,750 voice channels, at a link margin of 10bdB. User terminals retail at $60; earlier in the conference, Al Hamli said that 250,000 terminals had been procured. The capacity leased to Inmarsat for its interim 144kbps service should be fully utilised for Thuraya’s own traffic when the lease expires.

      Frederic Torrea from WorldSpace France showed a coverage map showing that AmeriStar’s beam now excluded Mexico, proving the operator had yielded to DoD pressure to cut interference with military test traffic in L band. WorldSpace’s second-generation receivers would cost around $50 (wholesale) and be made in South East Asia. New developments would include receivers in aircraft and cars, and the Global Radio project for Europe being developed in partnership with Alcatel. This will be a hybrid design, primarily terrestrial in urban districts, supplemented by repeaters in the suburbs and primarily via satellite in rural areas.

      Yukata Nagai, from Japan’s JSat, said his company was studying provision of mobile services in S band and would start a digital DBS service next year.

      Finally, on behalf of Eutelsat, strategy advisor Barry Saunders said that the privatisation scheduled for July would “allow greater scope for obtaining financing” and generally help to enlarge the future company. Up to 486 transponders were expected to be on stream by 2002, providing 846 channels. Hot Bird-8 is set to be ordered this year.

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