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Cover Story: Tracking Asia’s Internet Satellites

By | October 10, 2000

      By Peter J. Brown

      The 1990s are finally over, and Asia is breathing a sigh of relief. The economic indicators are all pointing to a continuing rebound, although some concern persists regarding its sustainability. In the midst of this relatively optimistic set of circumstances, the Asian satellite market is humming, and all the arrows are aiming in the direction of the Internet.

      Everywhere you look, the numbers look good. For example, Christopher Baugh, senior analyst at MA-based Pioneer Consulting LLC, projects that Asia-Pacific satellite bandwidth demand will increase from 2.43 Gbps in 2000 to 170.28 Gbps in 2003, and then spiral to over 6,400 Gbps by 2008.

      There are new satellites coming into play in the Asia-Pacific region like ACeS (Garuda 1), and Asiastar, while two new all-Ku-band satellites, GE 1A and Europe*Star 1, are easing toward their respective launch pads at press time. In Japan, two other all-Ku-band satellites are ready to go up as well. The Nsat 110 satellite–co-owned by SCC and JCSat- -will be launched in the final quarter of 2000 along with Bsat’s Bsat 2a satellite.

      Look for these satellites to unleash new applications, while on the ground, inexpensive new terminals are suddenly spilling into the marketplace. This is a global phenomenon, however, which has profound implications for the satellite industry in general, and not just the entrepreneurs looking to implement numerous services via satellite in the varied assortment of Asia-Pacific markets.

      For the big established players like Panamsat, Asiasat and Intelsat, expectations are high. The launch in Asia, for example, of Intelsat’s new advanced bandwidth-on-demand system, “Broadband VSAT,” which features a full menu of support services including billing and network management, is proceeding on APR 2 at 110.5 degreesE, and later in January with Intelsat 804 at 64 degreesE. Using Comsat Labs’ Linkway platform, both virtual circuit-based connections and multi-carrier feeds will cap out at 4 Mbps.

      Greenwich, CT-based Panamsat Corp. has its PAS 2 and PAS 8 satellites deployed in the region. Panamsat offers direct access to the U.S. backbone from Asia by way of its teleport in Napa, CA, and its new high-speed Net 36 service for IP video, audio and data should be ready to roll in this region as well.

      Everyone in the satellite sector knows the region is capable of generating substantial IP revenues. And yet, the question that remains unanswered is how successful can IP-over- satellite ventures really be in light of all the fiber that is being laid across the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Even as the immense undersea bandwidth pipeline known as Southern Cross is snaking its way to Australia, the talk turns to the unlimited potential of new hybrid fiber satellite (HFS) grids that mesh together seamlessly at every imaginable point on the map.

      Geo Still Reigns Supreme

      The new geostationary (GEO) satellites in the Asia-Pacific region say a great deal about the enormous changes that are underway. One of them is the Indonesia-based Asian Cellular Satellite (ACeS), aka Garuda 1, which is up and running at 123 degreesE. According to Adi Adiwoso, who serves as president of both ACeS and PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), “the gray cloud of Iridium is not helping us.”

      Yet, with its first payment of $10 million to $20 million not due until the first quarter of 2002, and with substantial financial backing from partner Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications (LMGT), Adiwoso describes ACeS as being in a relatively secure financial position at a time when the region’s demand for wireless medium-data-rate communications services in particular is mushrooming. Along with LMGT, PSN has partnered in this instance with the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and Jasmine International of Thailand.

      “With the exception of Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, you rarely see 64 kbps in Asia today. We intend to change this situation dramatically,” says Adiwoso, who adds that Global System for Mobiles, or GSM, coverage throughout much of Asia is quite poor.

      While ACeS is beaming what Adiwoso describes as the strongest L-band signal available today, at 73 dBW EIRP, the challenge of marketing dual GSM/satellite end-services across the entire span of Asia is enormous. While providing mobile phone services remains the top priority for ACeS, there are already signs that ACeS has an aggressive game plan unfolding in terms of data and Internet traffic.

      “The original design for the ACeS handset was done five years ago at a time when there was no 210-gram Ericsson R190 handset–the designated ACeS handset–or no GPRS (general packet radio service at 115 kbps). We realized that with 9.6 kbps as the accepted data rate at the time, the data requirements in general were not enough,” Adiwoso says.

      “Now we are preparing to follow the path for handhelds as it goes from GSM to GPRS to EDGE (enhanced data rate for global evolution, at 384 kbps),” Adiwoso says. “When WAP (wireless access protocol) capability becomes available, we will offer it. After all, we are content-driven. By 2002, we plan to offer a GPRS implementation over satellite.”

      With the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bergen, Norway-based Nera ASA, Adiwoso says that ACeS customers may have access to a 128 kbps symmetrical service before the end of 2001, and Adiwoso indicates that a 256 kbps service is not out of the question. After all, PSN is not pursuing a single satellite strategy. Instead, Adiwoso points to the unfolding of a very flexible regional satellite plan.

      “ACeS includes a stationary docking mechanism for interfacing with a fixed premises dish. With it, we can offer a medium data rate service using either C-band or Ku-band capacity, or we can take it up on L-band. We do not care what satellite we use, and we intend to use two or three different spacecraft, whether it is our Palapa C1 and our own Multimedia Asia (M2A) satellite, or perhaps another satellite in the region,” Adiwoso says.

      For LMGT, although ACeS brings a significant regional presence, it is only one piece of the Asian puzzle. Besides its global Astrolink LLC venture, LMGT has a stake in Lockheed Martin Intersputnik’s LMI 1 at 75 degreesE. Another new GEO to watch is GE 1A, a satellite operated by Americom Asia-Pacific LLC (AAP) which is a 50/50 joint venture based in Singapore involving LMGT and Princeton, NJ-based GE Americom.

      Indeed, with a payload consisting of 28 Ku-band transponders, GE 1A at 108 degreesE is a prime Ku-band contender in a region where C-band has held the high ground for years. Europe*Star 1, another Ku-band-only satellite which we will look at in moment, is going up to the 45 degreesE slot. Both were scheduled for launch as we went to press.

      GE 1A is an important satellite for the fleets of both LMGT and GE Americom, according to Elias Zaccack, AAP’s managing director in Singapore.

      GE Americom’s global satellite fleet includes regional satellites such as GE 1A in Asia, and GE 1E–soon to be joined by GE 2E–in Europe, as well as Nahuel 1 in Latin America. Transoceanic expansion by GE Americom is underway as well, and this summer it was announced that Alcatel Space will build at least four new satellites for GE Americom.

      “GE 1A’s timing is perfect with three beams into South Asia, China and Northeast Asia. The opportunities to carry data and broadband traffic are surging, replicating the same upward curve in demand for Ku-band which took place in North America and Europe in the last two or three years,” says Zaccack. He adds that although Ka-band traffic is already present in Japan and South Korea, it currently appears to be a niche market, as Ka-band has not taken off yet throughout the rest of Asia, thanks in large part to a lack of inexpensive ground equipment.

      “The orbital arc over Asia is saturated with C-band and Ku-band satellites. C-band supply is now rare. Ku-band supply can be found, but nobody else can provide such a large block of Ku-band transponders as GE 1A,” Zaccack says. “The skepticism which was once so pervasive concerning the use of Ku-band in this rain fade-intensive environment is going away due to higher-powered satellites and improved antenna designs.”

      The Doughnut Strategy

      The single hop. Close to the end-user. Close to the edge. These are references made constantly to the emerging satellite Internet market. Well, as advantageous as satellite may be in regard to these second-generation services, there are satellite operators in Asia who just want to provide a basic service, supplying people with access where nothing else is available. That is the mission of Shin Satellite Public Co. Ltd. in Nonthaburi, Thailand, which operates three Thaicom satellites.

      “We are competing with cable modems and DSL, so we avoid targeting the central urban zones. We have devised what we describe as a doughnut strategy, (a ring around an urban core saturated with fiber), which involves suburbs and industrial zones,” says Richard Jones, a spokesperson for Shin Satellite, who indicates that IP traffic today accounts for only one percent of his company’s revenues.

      Shin Satellite’s largest customer outside Thailand is India’s Department of Space, which leases 10 C-band transponders. With India opening the door earlier this year to the use of Ku-band for Internet traffic and uplinking, Jones anticipates that there may be a surge of Internet traffic on Thaicom 3 in particular involving, among other things, a Ku-band IP bridge between Hong Kong and India. Thaicom 3 features a total of 15 fixed 54-MHz Ku-band transponders and steerable 36-MHz Ku-band transponders, along with a single C-band global beam extending from Europe to Australia.

      For its broadband initiative, Shin Satellite is preparing IPstar, which will use a Loral 1300S bus and be deployed at 120 degreesE. It is scheduled to go up in late 2002. Jones indicates that regional broadband satellites such as IPstar, with up to 10 Mbps inbound and 4 Mbps return, will be properly positioned to tap into fiber-intensive hubs. The net result should be a more affordable proposition than the much more elaborate constellation-based satellite systems such as Teledesic.

      Among other things, IPstar will carry a mix of 87 Ku-band spotbeams, and 10 Ka-band spotbeams. Three Ku-band shaped beams round out the payload. Jones indicates that the satellite will also have dynamic bandwidth management to dynamically adjust modulation and coding for each carrier in each beam. There will be no onboard processing, switching or inter-satellite links.

      “Nobody is going to buy broadband satellite service if it is more expensive than the services on the ground. To succeed, we will have to create an aggressive pricing model. By the time our IPstar satellite is launched, VSAT as we know it today will end,” adds Jones.

      Shin Satellite has teamed up with Monmouth, OR-based Codespace, and Orange Village, OH-based Efficient Channel Coding Inc. (ECC) to develop a new satellite terminal for under $1,000. ECC is contributing its expertise on multi-band transmitters and burst receivers. The goal is not just to cut costs, but to achieve greater efficiencies as well.

      “We are using Internet Protocol, and we will not be DVB,” says Jones, who adds that while using Internet Protocol on IPstar is much more efficient than DVB, “if a customer wishes to use IPstar for broadcasting and insists on DVB, that can be done.”

      Will Shin Satellite be tapping into DOCSIS–data over cable service interface specification–for IPstar? DOCSIS has been selected by CO-based Wildblue for its satellite broadband service, for example.Jones elected not to answer that question. He did say that people are going to demand access, and that the demand, which is already large, will become enormous.

      All the C-band capacity on Shin Satellites’ trio of Thaicom birds is spoken for, and yet only a third of the Ku-band capacity is booked.

      “We are trying to move our IP customers in C-band over to Ku-band. Eventually, we plan to shift all of the IP traffic to IPstar,” Jones says.

      As in the case of ACeS, Nera has been selected to provide Internet gateway technology for the IPstar system.

      In the meantime, among other things, Shin Satellite is rolling out Mountain View, CA-based Skystream Networks Inc.’s DBN-24 Source Media Router technology to perform IP data encapsulation and injection over MPEG-based broadcast streams, along with Skystream’s 2000 Edge Media Router (EMR) on the receive side. Three classes of IP-based service are available, including a simplex service known as Net Turbo, a two-way service known as Thaicom Direct, and Pro Trunk.

      Setting Up Shop In Singapore

      Singapore has become a preferred location in Asia for several new satellite-based ventures in the region. Bedminster, NJ-based Loral Skynet, for example, is there after leasing the entire Apstar 2R–now renamed Telstar 10–at 76.5 degreesE late last year from Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Co. Ltd. in the wake of the loss of Orion 3. Loral Cyberstar is there, too.

      Earlier this year, Interpacket Networks Inc. (IPN) of Santa Monica, CA, set up shop in Singapore as well. IPN is using four C-band transponders on Telstar 10, along with additional C-band capacity on Panamsat’s PAS 2 and PAS 8.

      “The recent liberalization of rules in various Asian countries is allowing ISPs access to satellite capacity for the first time,” says Soo Yew Weng, IPN’s managing director for Asia. “Internet over satellite has really picked up since last year. The market is very buoyant as ISPs are clamoring for capacity.

      “Look at India. Overnight, the number of ISPs jumped tremendously from one to 200,” adds Soo, who indicates that numerous competitors who specialize in the provision of IP connectivity to the U.S. backbone are vying for business in Asia. That list includes Singtel, Teleglobe, Hong Kong Telecom–now owned by Hong Kong-based Pacific Century Cyberworks Ltd.–Loral Cyberstar and Hutchison Whampoa.

      Soo is not interested in looking at Ku-band capacity at the moment. At the same time, C-band is scarce. C-band platforms like Shin Satellite’s Thaicom 3 with its enormous regional beams are entirely booked up. Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd (Asiasat) has perhaps the highest number of direct-to-home (DTH) eyeballs in the region with its Asiasat 2 and Asiasat 3S satellites, but it is also the most expensive, according to Soo. Even with other C-band platforms in the region such as Telkom 1, Sinosat 1, Agila 2, ST 1, Measat 1 and 2, and the Palapa satellites operated by Jakarta-based PT Satelit Palapa Indonesia, Soo says that the feeling in the market today is that there is a shortage of C-band capacity.

      “The goal is to use C-band to cover the entire region. Nobody has done an effective job with Ku-band to date in Asia. In addition, most of the Ku-band capacity is dedicated to spotbeams. This means that to engage in a regional service, you end up having to ‘glue’ several spotbeams together, which is also very expensive,” Soo says.

      IPN is not very active in Japan for a variety of reasons. “There is too much cheap trans-Pacific fiber there already,” says Soo, who adds that any new service providers seeking to enter that market for the purpose of providing IP connectivity are stepping into a tightly regulated market.

      Otherwise, Soo believes that the biggest strides in the Asian ISP market are happening on the ground with good, cost-effective equipment that is available for $10,000 or less, which represents perhaps one-third the cost of the same equipment just two or three years ago. IPN is currently using DVB receivers manufactured by San Diego-based Harmonic Data Systems (HDS).

      “We are in the process of developing and deploying our streaming media and caching services. We are working very closely with IBeam Broadcasting and Real Networks in our efforts to implement a worldwide multicasting platform for broadband content distribution,” Soo says.

      Telstar 10 has an abundance of IP traffic on it already, according to Tim Shea, executive sales director of the Asia Pacific for Loral Skynet. Shea reports that approximately 65 percent of Telstar 10’s C-band capacity is dedicated to data or IP traffic, and that video accounts for 35 percent, a striking contrast to the typical North American or even European satellite profile.

      “Our timing was fantastic. Most of our transponders are being sold on a full transponder basis, and our C-band is 90 percent full,” says Shea, who indicates that besides Interpacket, other significant customers include Singtel, Hutchison Whampoa, and Hong Kong Telecom. Eastern DTH in Taiwan is one of the larger video customers.

      Shea believes that most broadcasters and users are still a bit reluctant to embrace Ku-band, but the Ku-band market is growing as satellite operators demonstrate an ability to overcome rain fade.

      “C-band and Ku-band prices have been rising steadily over the last six months,” Shea says. “Still, Ku-band remains a challenging sell in Asia.”

      Loral Skynet’s parent company, New York-based Loral Space and Communications, has a joint venture with Alcatel Space and Germany’s Dr. Schulte Hillen Group involving two Europe*Star satellites at 45 degreesE. As mentioned earlier, like GE 1A, both Europe*Stars will be entirely Ku-band. Shea handles sales for the Southeast Asian region, and says there is a lot of interest in this satellite, which will offer a direct shot from Southeast Asia and India to London-based fiber connections linked to the east facility in the United States.

      Globecast, the provider of broadcast services for France Telecom, has signed on already with U.K.-based Europe*Star Ltd., according to the venture’s president and CEO Alain Roger. The satellite’s orbital position and onboard power–this satellite has 30 Ku-band transponders operating with 140-watt TWTAs–are optimized for both video broadcasting and Internet-based services. Offering the use of a satellite that can provide linked beams to Europe, southern Africa, India and the Middle East is seen as a distinct advantage by Roger.

      “Some people believe there is too much Ku-band coming, while others believe there is not enough. I simply remind everyone that very few people made accurate forecasts regarding the explosive growth of the Internet. Capacity is coming, and a global solution will win, both ground and space segment,” Roger says.

      “This is a partnership, and a logical deployment, built around a one-stop shopping solution. Alcatel and Loral together obviously share a long-term agenda involving an emphasis on services. It extends beyond Europe*Star to Globalstar, and Skybridge,” Roger adds. “This is not a standalone business.”

      In June, Europe*Star B, with 15 Ku-band transponders, was deployed to 45 degreesE in inclined orbit. Roger indicates the satellite will be used primarily for Ku-band contribution services, but he declined to identify the satellite’s prior owner.

      More To Come

      As 2000 comes to a close, Washington, DC-based Worldspace Corp. stands a very strong chance of winding up on our list of somewhat surprising yet potentially strong players in the Asian multimedia via satellite market. Yes, with two of the three planned satellites in the Worldspace global digital radio system now deployed–Afristar and Asiastar–a superb one-way data broadcasting platform is now in place that can handle data rates up to 128 kbps.

      This is quite significant on a planet where the vast majority of people do not enjoy access to Web sites or any form of Internet traffic even at 64 kbps–let alone wireless access.

      Worldspace spokesman Nicholas Braden indicates that every Worldspace receiver can be linked to a PC via a built-in USB port. These receivers are manufactured by well-known consumer electronics companies such as Hitachi, Panasonic, JVC and Sanyo. What is noteworthy is that the vast population of South Asia, including the fast-growing satellite market in India, is not only served by Asiastar at 105 degreesE, but by Afristar too, which is located at 21 degreesE.

      Yes, the Ka-band presence in Asia is growing now that Koreasat 3 has been added to the region’s satellite roster. And yet, it is on the ground where perhaps the most impressive breakthroughs are taking place. The terminals and gateways which constitute today’s Ku-band and Ku/Ka-band satellite infrastructure on the ground are remarkable unto themselves, and Asian satellite-based service providers are wasting no time when it comes to embracing this new technology.

      In June, Irving, CA-based STM Wireless Inc. announced that its two-way DVB Spaceweb-Online system would be used by MiraeOnline in South Korea. This is the latest development stemming from an agreement forged last year involving STM Wireless and San Diego-based Harmonic Data Systems (HDS), which blends STM’s Spaceweb VSAT system together with the HDS’ Cyberstream IP over DVB/S, MPEG 2 broadband technology.

      Among other things, this sets the stage for MiraeOnline to conduct IP multicasting using 0.6-meter antennas aimed at Koreasat 3. It also brings added energy to a fast-growing marketplace, thanks to a satellite feed which can run at up to 48 Mbps linked to a 192 kbps return path using the STM Wireless F-TDMA IP-DAMA hub.

      So, Internet via satellite is on the fast track in Asia, and we have just skimmed the surface here. In the sky, and on the ground, there is a lot to talk about, and thousands– if not millions–more satellite dishes to be installed.

      Peter J. Brown is Via Satellite’s Senior Multimedia Editor. He lives on Mount Desert Island, ME.

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