By James Careless
VSAT: the acronym means Very Small Aperture Terminals. But for VSAT operators around the world, VSAT means opportunity. Consistently, it seems that someone, somewhere comes up with creative new ways to use VSATs for business ventures. Here are some of the very hottest VSAT applications from around the globe, all of which offer real opportunity for manufacturers, vendors and service providers alike.
Interactive Distance Learning
With its inherent one-to-many distribution pattern, VSATs are tailor-made for interactive distance learning (IDL). "In fact, there simply isn't a more cost-effective, easily deployable and robust way to reach students continent-wide than via satellite," says Arunas Slekys, vice president of Hughes Network Systems.
Technically speaking, Slekys is right. But what about distance learning itself? Is it a hot business opportunity for the VSAT industry? Is it ever, says Simon Bull, senior consultant at Comsys. While traveling the world to research Comsys' "The VSAT Report 2003," Bull got an earful about interactive distance learning wherever he went.
"In China, for instance, almost every operator we interviewed cited IDL as the primary area of opportunity in that country today," says Bull. "In fact, interactive distance learning services have sparked a gold rush in China. Distance education over satellite for universities and schools dwarfs almost all other VSAT market segments in the country today. Chinacast has more than 10,000 HNS-manufactured satellite sites deployed for universities and schools throughout the country."
The Australian government has also embraced IDL for delivering education to small rural towns, 239 isolated schools, and isolated homesteads in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. One of Australia's major telecoms, Optus, is running this IDL network using Gilat Satellite Network's (Gilat) Skystar 360E VSAT platform. "It is gratifying to know that VSAT technology will enable so many people to take advantage of educational opportunities that were previously unavailable to them," says Oded Sheshinski, general manager of Gilat's Australian office.
Meanwhile in Mexico, President Vicente Fox launched the satellite-based "e-Mexico National System." Using VSAT technology from Viasat and OneTouch's distance learning product, e-Mexico will eventually use 17,000 VSAT sites to provide IDL to 85 percent of all Mexicans.
Broadband IP/Internet Access Via VSAT
Next to IDL, broadband IP/Internet access via VSAT is the opportunity that is on everyone's minds. Small wonder. Whether it is for business, schools or consumers, broadband IP/Internet access is something that everyone wants.
Moreover, money does not seem to be a barrier. For instance, "the real driver in Africa is broadband satellite access," says Bull. "People want Internet access, and, despite Africa's poor economy, they are willing to pay to get it now."
South Africa's Telkom SA Ltd., for example, is deploying a Gilat Skystar 360E satellite hub station and thousands of VSAT terminals to support Telkom's broadband VSAT offering. Throughout the next five years Telkom SA will deploy more than 26,000 Gilat VSATs.
On the other end of the continent, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corp. selected HNS for a $25 million contract to create a comprehensive broadband network for schools, businesses and government agencies across Ethiopia.
"Multimedia data services in Africa are catching on," says Jorge Vespoli, vice president of sales and marketing for Viasat. "We have one customer whose core business has been broadcasting, but that now is diversifying into multimedia services for a variety of audiences."
Across the Straits of Gibraltar, "the buzz around Europe is satellite-based solutions for SMEs [small-to-medium sized enterprises] and SOHOs [Small Office/Home Office], which provide broadband services fast and affordably," says David Hartshorn, executive director of the Global VSAT Forum. "With an eye to eventually reaching consumers, European satellite service providers are relying on open standards to keep costs down for business."
Of course, some parts of Europe are not well-served by terrestrial networks. This is why Russia's Crosna Group is installing an HNS Direcway Network Operations Center and 7,300 one-way and two-way broadband satellite terminals to link schools throughout Moscow. But poor terrestrial connectivity is not just an Eastern European issue. In the Netherlands, more than 800 rural schools/colleges rely on Direcway for their IP-based services.
In India, the Indian telecom service provider HCL Comnet is deploying a Gilat 360E VSAT satellite hub and 500 VSAT terminals.
Further east, Speedcast Ltd. is launching two-way broadband service via satellite throughout Asia, using Viasat's LinkStar VSAT equipment. Based in Hong Kong, Speedcast's service will provide broadband Internet access and Virtual Private Network channels to business users at speeds up to 1.5 Mbs. "Viasat's LinkStar system will allow Speedcast to quickly deploy broadband Internet services to the most remote parts of the region, using cost-effective VSATs," says Speedcast CEO Tom Choi.
In South America, broadband IP/Internet access is also in hot demand. For example, despite Brazil's continuing economic problems, the country's Communications Ministry selected Gilat to provide two-way "GESAC" (Governo Eletronico-Servico de Atendimento ao Cidadao) Internet service to 3,200 VSAT sites nationwide. "GESAC is a major undertaking that will help bridge the digital divide in Brazil," says Juarez Quadros, Brazil's minister of communications. "The program brings Internet access and computer usage to citizens with little or no purchasing power."
North America's rural regions also need VSAT to access broadband services, says Jeff Mathie, president of Patriot Antenna Systems. This is why "Patriot is at the forefront of several new projects in North America supporting cable companies that are reaching out to rural markets with Internet access," he says. "Patriot is offering traditional Ku-band VSATs as well as some multi-band systems that transmit at one frequency and receive on another, allowing traditional video receiving cable headends to receive Internet content."