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Satellite Industry Leaders Ponder Fiber Threat

By | December 18, 2002

      Satellite and fiber are complementary, not competing technologies. Yet, with more fiber infrastructure in the ground, there clearly will be more pressure on satellite infrastructure, despite it having a far wider reach than fiber. This was the main message coming from a panel of experts discussing the relative merits of fiber and satellite at Satellite Europe 2002.

      While prices for terrestrial fiber optic channels to transport content have fallen rapidly, the truth is that most regions of the world are only partially covered by fiber. All are covered by satellite. Vince Walisko, partner at Global Satellite Exchange LLC, a global electronic marketplace for buying and selling satellite communications capacity, believes this factor should not be overlooked. He said: “Where satellite shines is point-to-multipoint broadcasting. We see a lot of requirements coming out of lesser parts of the world. Terrestrial is widely available, most in Western Europe, parts of North America, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific Rim. But satellite is available worldwide. This can be an over-riding factor.”

      New Satellite Opportunities

      There are potential new business opportunities for satellite operators for existing FSS Ku-satellite assets. Gregg Daffner, president, Global Communications Consulting, offered one such example to the conference.He cited an example of live TV to vehicles as a service that is perfectly suited to satellite technologies. He said: “The service would be focused on vehicular users. In the research we did, the largest market was a passenger market for cars, a backseat TV service focused on kids. Unlike DBS, which is focused on the home, in vehicles, the displays will be substantially smaller. In terms of terrestrial 3G bandwidth as well as mobile satellite band, there is insufficient bandwidth for cost effective live video broadcasting. A dedicated satellite system solution is also not viable business solution.”

      While such a service has issues in terms of cost of antennas and whether providers can make the service location-enabled, Daffner believes this is a good example of a next- generation service based on satellite tecchnology. He commented: “This is a limited proposal. The keys to profitability are that you want to avoid heavy infrastructure costs up front. Satellites offer the largest broadcast solution. Wireless is the way forward. I think this is next really big thing for satellites.”

      Yet, while satellite infrastructure has a clear edge in terms of reach, the competitive threat posed by fiber is not going to go away. Daffner said: “There is substantial amount of embedded infrastructure that has now been built. The money is spent. The question is whether it is a level playing field. Once the money is spent on a terrestrial infrastructure, it is unlikely to go away. Fiber has been built out in areas that are considered ideal satellite opportunities. For example, there are opportunities where you can use fiber nodes for plug-and-play back to a television studio.”

      Gary Hatch, president of ATCi, believes attitudes have changed with respect to the debate about satellite versus fiber. He thinks operators need to look more at how the infrastructure makes money rather than its reach. He said: “This year everyone is focused on profit. Last century it was all about rollout and product.”

      Broadcasting Perspective

      In an earlier panel, broadcasters spoke about the advantages of satellite over fiber as well as the possibility of using integrated solutions encompassing both technologies. Tony Richey, manager international operations, BBC Technology, told the Satellite 2002 Europe conference, “Our connections are a choice between fiber and satellite. An integrated solution (fiber and satellite) is likely to give a better end result. Some of the satellite companies are expanding their space segment with fiber networks. It is good news for us that IP over satellite is getting better. This is good for distributing video. Fiber is starting to get the hang of point to mulitpoint.”

      Richey cites the reach of satellite as a key competitive advantage for broadcasters. He says: “BBC World (a news channel) goes into 232 million homes, 200 countries and territories. The US is one of the last countries to receive BBC World. It should be available there in the not too distant future. We would push to achieve that kind of reach on fiber.”

      Eurovision, the pan-European service broadcaster that, among other things, distributes a number of sporting events throughout Europe, is also looking at fiber options. The broadcaster has done two studies in the past three years to assess the feasibility of using fiber. Etienne Hertsen, head of networks at Eurovision, told the conference, “We are looking to build solutions on fiber. It will be complementary to satellite. But I don’t think we could move the whole of our traffic to fiber.”

      However, when it comes to broadcasting sports events world-wide, satellite still retains a number of advantages. Richey admitted: “A lot of major venues are getting fibered up, but we still use satellite uplinks. Satellite is flexible and scalable. Events and sports like a simple path. There are fewer places to chase if there are problems.”

      — Mark Holmes

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