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Global VSAT Review: Resolving The Great Asian Open Skies Debate

By | August 10, 2001

      By David Hartshorn

      VISA, Reuters, Peugeot, Argyle, and Weat are birds of a feather. While they hark from different European commercial arenas–credit, financial services, automotive, retail and utilities, respectively–each is running a satellite network involving hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of end-user sites.

      But their most striking common characteristic is the fact that each network spans an entire region providing connectivity across a multitude of nations. For example in Peugeot’s case, a 4,200-site VSAT network is cost effectively moving data traffic throughout 19 countries.

      It should go without saying that the benefits of such solutions reach far beyond satellite service providers: Efficiencies are realized by the corporate customers and these translate into stronger competitiveness, growth, new jobs, export earnings, and an invigorated local economy, all of which attract foreign investment. This creates a domino effect for the public sector, where each national administration advances its economic policy objectives and, yes, grows its tax base. That’s why European governments have long since begun moving towards Open Skies policies for VSAT service provision.

      However, try to obtain permission to establish a simple private satellite network linking, say, Beijing, Bangkok, and Jakarta, and the answer is probably a polite “No.” The harsh reality is that the vast majority of Asia’s VSAT-based applications are prevented from reaching beyond the borders of any one country. This is particularly unfortunate for Asia when one considers the extent to which Asian, European, North American and other multi-national corporations have established off-shore operations throughout the region. There is acute demand for trans-border connectivity, not only for multi-national enterprises, but for public-sector concerns that are in dire need of solutions well-served by regional links, such as tele-medicine and distance learning. At the same time, there is a massive on-orbit supply of low-cost capacity that could be used to roll out major Asian networks for IP-based VSAT applications, such as banking, oil and gas, insurance, pharmaceuticals, advertising, Internet service provision, travel and tourism, and much more.

      The crux of the matter is, of course, regulatory protectionism. Most Asian nations maintain some form of “Closed Skies” policy that prevents all satellite operators–including those who are meant to be “protected” –from providing would-be customers with regional VSAT-based telecom services. The result is an inability to provide services and badly under-utilized regional beams.

      Evidence of this can be obtained from analyst reports that track regional transponder utilization. For example, Paris-based Euroconsult showed in its most recent report that the Asia-Pacific has a higher percentage of unused satellite capacity than any other region in the world. Last year, almost 25 percent of the transponder capacity serving Asia was standing idle–and not for lack of demand.

      Further evidence can be obtained simply by asking the satellite operators. And that’s what this correspondent did recently in Singapore, where the Global VSAT Forum held a satellite operators’ meeting to specifically address the issue. The answer? Yes, they agreed, regional beams are substantially under-utilized. Is regulatory reform the solution? Yes. And finally, do the satellite operators in the room want to work together to advocate Open Skies VSAT policies in the region? After two-and-a-half hours of discussion: Yes.

      To prove their resolve, the satellite operators jointly drafted a declaration advocating Open Skies VSAT policies in Asia and established an action plan to seek governmental and inter-governmental adoption of the concept. For those who remain skeptical about the chances of such an initiative, it’s worth mentioning that industry support is strong. Attendees at the satellite operator meeting included representatives from APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. (China), Mabuhay Philippines Satellite Corp. (Philippines), New Skies Satellites (Australia & the Netherlands), PT Satelit Palapa Indonesia (Indonesia), Shin Satellite (Thailand), Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (Singapore), as well as Eutelsat (France), Intelsat (U.S.) and Loral Cyberstar International (U.S.).

      In addition, representatives from most of the other satellite operators who provide service in the region urged that the meeting go forward. As for the joint policy statement, the text has been endorsed not only by the meeting attendees, but also by the Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Council, India’s VSAT Service Providers Association, and Russia’s National Assembly of Satellite Communications, with potential support forthcoming from the China Satellite Forum and the Indonesian Satellite Industry Association, among others.

      Will it be easy going? No. But selected Asian administrations have already begun implementing VSAT Open Skies policies, and with the international industry joining together to promote further reform, region-wide progress is now within sight. Watch this space.

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

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