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Satellites Launch New Telecom Opportunities.

In less than 25 years since they were first lifted into orbit, communications satellites have given wings to telecommunications services of virtually all types, bringing both basic and enhanced voice, video and data services to billions of people. Without satellites, many millions in remote areas still wouldn't have even basic services. And the distance-insensitivity of satellite technology has meant more economical services around the globe. After all, the signals travel 22,300 miles up and 22,300 miles down, so it doesn't matter whether two points are 200 miles apart or 2,000. Satellites also have an inherent broadcast capability, such as that widely used by the cable television industry, allowing a single signal to be received by tens of thousands of small earth stations for widespread distribution.

"Satellites have become the most important delivery system for long-distance communications," observes Olof Lundberg, director-general of the International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat), which presently serves more than 2,000 maritime industry customers via its global system. "The power of satellites cannot be over-estimated. When we consider the billions of people who have, at the same time, witnessed the same event--a walk on the moon, a World Cup soccer game, a royal wedding--we realize how right McLuhan was when he spoke of a global village."

Within a few years of satellites becoming a reality, the first efforts were made to develop their communications capabilities, first with the successful launch of Echo 1 in August 1960. This was the first passive communications satellite, a 100-foot Mylar balloon that simply bounced signals back to earth. Two months later, Courier IB become the first active-repeater satellite, but because of its low altitude, ground stations had to track the satellite to maintain contact as it moved across the sky. Telstar 1 in July 1962 showed the potential of satellites for transoceanic communications. Then the true forerunner of today's satellites, Syncom 2, was placed in the geostationary orbit at 22,300 miles above the equator. By rotating at exactly the same speed as the earth, it was available 24 hours a day. The next big boost came in April 1965 when the first Intelsat satellite was launched, and the first commercial communication was made on June 8, 1965.

Since then, satellite technology has made great leaps both internationally and domestically. The United States in particular has taken the lead in domestic satellites, although the first domestic satellite. Anik 1, was launched by Canada. It was via Anik 1 that RCA American began the first commercial US service in 1974. The following year, Western Union launched the first US domestic satellites, and the race has been on ever since. We'll look at some of today's players and proposed entrants a little later. First we'll see just how large the use of satellite communication is, and where it's headed.

Today, the burgeoning demand for satellite channels is growing "just a little faster than supply of new transponders," according to a new report on "Satellite Communications Services & Equipment Markets" published by International Resource Development of Norwalk, Connecticut. IRD predicts that a combination of factors in the telecommunications and broadcasting markets will absorb new transponder capacity planned into the 1990s. It says this strong demand for satellite channels will have important implications for pricing satellite transponders.

IRD researcher Joan de Regt says, "We can see transponder pricing rising 30 to 40 percent above today's levels." Although the supply of transponders, resulting from new satellite launchings, will be "generally adequate through about 1987" to meet market demands, IRD expects that the focus of attention in the industry will soon shift away from concern about supply/demand issues, towards "the fundamental problems of orbit and spectrum shortages. In the case of the US domestic satellite industry, these future shortages will be exacerbated by the fact that South American, Central American, Caribbean and Canadian satellite communications needs must also be satisfied by the use of satellites located in approximately the same longitudes as those used for domestic US communications."

The IRD report also discusses possible long-term developments in satellite technology, and points out that there may be some major changes in the structure of satellite communications. "For the 1970s and 1980s," it says "geosynchronous satellites are just fine: however, the 1990s may lead to the much greater development of inter-satellite communications and even the use of the moon to locate microwave transceivers for communications." Joan de Regt explains that the use of multiple-satellite communications systems can mean that a family of non synchronous satellites in different orbits can be used to reduce reliance on crowded (and vulnerable) equatorial stationary orbits.

According to the IRD study, revenues from transponder rentals on US systems are currently in the $400 million range, and will rise to about $1 billion by 1988. It predicts that purchases of DBS transceivers will push total earth station sales also past the $1-billion level in 1988, from their current $600-million level. It adds that sales of "backyard" earth stations in the $3,000 to $6,000 price range were estimated to total about 40,000 for 1983, but this business is expected to be heavily impacted by the eventual emergence of mass-produced, lower-cost DBS home receivers, "which will probably be manufactured by large-volume manufacturing companies and will be distributed by Sears, Roebuck and other major consumer distribution channels."

RCA American sees the greatest growth potential coming from commercial communications services, saying that much will stem from the surge in office automation and the technological and regulatory developments related to Digital Termination Service, spread-spectrum transmission techniques for data networking, digital teleconferencing and other telecommunications requirements. Services also encompass long-distance private-line service, satellite links to offshore and remove area drilling and exploration rigs, private telecommunications networks and wideband digital data networks, among others.

While RCA was the first to provide US service (via Anik) and Western Union the first with its own satellites, they have been joined by a growing list of others, with many more waiting in the wings. Last April, the FCC took two major actions concerning satellites. It authorized 19 new domestic satellites, brining to 38 the total number approved for operation by 1987, and it reduced the orbital spacing between 14/12-GHz (Ku-band) satellites to two degrees, from three, and said two-degree spacing would gradually be adopted for 6/4-GHz (C-band). The latter move provides additional slots in the now crowded orbital arc. (See story, June 1983 Communications News, page 42B, and orbital slot assignment chart on page 58 of this issue.)

Then came another avalanche late last year, when 22 companies asked the FCC for permission to build and operate 58 new satellites (with 51 to be launched). As would be expected, among the many current operators seeking to expand their present systems were some new faces in the crowd, including Equatorial Communications, Federal Express, Martin Marietta and Mobile Satellite.

While C-band has been the mainstay of domestic satellite operation, the move in recent years has been toward Ku-band, primarily to avoid the interference problem created by terrestrial microwave use of 6 and 4 GHz. The use of 14 and 12 GHz permits earth stations to be located in major metropolitan areas, closer to the user. While some of the proposed satellites will operate at C-band, many more plan to use the higher frequencies.

Hughes Communications Galaxy has set its sights even higher. It's proposing a commercial millimeter-wave satellite system to operate at 20 and 30 GHz and provide about six times the communications capacity of existing domestic satellites. The two satellites, to be launched late in 1988, would operate in the virtually unused Ka frequency band. They'd be based on the Intelsat VI spacecraft that Hughes Aircraft is building for Intelsat. Each satellite will carry 3,000 T-1 channels, and will form 16 spot beams that will fall on major metropolitan areas of the US. With each beam providing high-power transmission and sensitive reception, the new system can operate with inexpensive two-meter earth stations on customer premises.

As mentioned earlier in this story, satellites have played a major role in bringing modern communications services to rural and remote areas, and they're expected to play an even larger role in the coming years.

Realizing the potential, Canada was the first to launch a domestic satellite in the early 1970s, to more economically link its vast country with widely scattered populated areas. Alaska is another prime example. Basic telephone service has been provided to small rural communities in the Alaska "bush" by domestic satellites since 1975. Alascom, Incorporated is the sole operator of earth stations in 65 of these bush locations, and operates another 35 jointly with local exchange carriers.

Many other areas of the world have similar needs. Richard Butler, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, feels that "the greatest advantage of satellite communications, relative to terrestrial systems, has hardly been exploited up to the present time. Most of the present global use of satellite communications is for high-capacity trunk circuits, which is simply an extension of radio-relay technology. Yet satellites have a geometric advantage not possessed by terrestrial means. Satellite systems are distributed networks, by nature. Once a satellite is operating, any two points within its service can be connected without any terrestrial facilities, other than the terminals themselves."

Butler adds, "Over the long term, there are only three major areas which will always be better served by satellite communications than by other means: aircraft, ships and rural areas." He points out that "the magnitude of the problem of rural telecommunications in developing countries is staggering. In order to have any hope of reaching a significant number of un-served areas and coping with the investment required, the primary objective thus has to be to place one or a few telephone-type channels (which may also be used for telex and other data communications needs) in as many locations as possible, instead of placing larger numbers of facilities in fewer locations, as is being done at present. The only practical way of doing this is to turn to the one naturally distributed telecommunications means: satellite communications. Even now, because of the costs involved in constructing terrestrial facilities, it is cheaper to install an earth station of appropriate size than to install terrestrial facilities in those areas where adequate terrestrial facilities do not exist, even if access to adequate terrestrial facilities is only a few tens of kilometers away."

There are at least several proposals on the table for using satellites to bring various services to remote areas in the US, including those from NASA, Mobilsat and Skylink. Opposition to date has centered primarily on proposed use of 800-MHz frequencies.

John Kiesling, president of Mobile Satellite Corporation (Mobilsat), sees such a service aiding small telcos and co-ops. He says such a service can provide "a high-capacity, high-performance, fully switched radiotelephone service to rural areas equivalent in all respects to the much-touted cellular systems, and at affordable prices. By satellite, the service is available everywhere and local population density--a key factor in cellular viability--is irrelevant to the satellite service. It doesn't matter where the mobiles are, or how they are distributed; it's only the total number that counts."

In the Mobilsat concept, mobiles communicate directly with the satellite in either the UHF band (806 to 896 MHz) or L-band (1.5 GHz). The satellite translates these signals to Ku band for communications to gateways (see diagram at bottom of page 56). The gateways are located at telco exchanges for interconnection with the telephone network. Mobilsat is requesting two orbital positions (at about 85 and 125 degrees), saying the two will enable trilateration for mobile vehicle position location, accurate to within 0.2 miles.

As Kiesling sees it, "The public dilemma involves a decision on the selection of frequencies. Should the UHF reserve band be used to provide additional capability to apporximately 60 millions of Americans living in urban America, or to 60 million Americans in rural America who otherwise can expect no useful service? Perhaps the L-band offers the possibility of accomplishing these issues."

While not agreeing that L-band is the answer, a number of two-way radio user groups definitely agree that 800 MHz is not the place to consider. The National Association of Business and Education Radio, for one, says that "any stated need for land-mobile services in rural areas will in all likelihood be satisfied through implementation of land-mobile cellular telephone as well as private dispatch systems....Further, the recent growth of SMRS offerings, as evidenced by the rapid assignment of 800-MHz spectrum released in Docket 79-191, is indicative of greater availability of private dispatch systems to eligibles."

The Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC), which represents more than 20 user groups, says it's not opposed in principle to the service, but it believes that "in light of the enormous cost of establishing this service, the (FCC) should first establish an overall policy concerning both the desirability of the service and the spectrum space that it should be allocated. No such policy has been established to date."

Whether the many new satellites on the horizon will provide mobile, data or video services, they'll have one thing in common--lower launch costs. NASA's Space shuttle, for example, has been launching satellites into orbit for about a year and a half, for substantially less than the expendable rockets used since the late 1950s. Another more economical alternative is being provided by Arianspace, a private European consortium formed to launch the Ariane rocket developed by the 11 member countries of the European Space Agency. Headquartered near Paris. Arianspace uses a launch center in Kourou, French Guiana, which, because of its equatorial location, allows the launch of larger, multiple payloads. Through 1986, Arianspace has scheduled about 20 launches for 30 satellites.

If some of the "gee-whiz" aspect of the seemingly "routine" launches has waned, the early February Shuttle launch of Western Union's Westar VI shows that it's still far from simple, as did the launch of an RCA Satcom satellite late in 1979. At this writing, Westar VI was successfully deployed from the Shuttle's cargo bay, but failed to reach its proper altitude for operation. Three days later the same fate befell the new Indonesian Palapa satellite. As shown by the first tests of the gas-powered backpacks on that mission, untethered astronauts soon will be able to do repairs on-site, or retrieve faulty satellites for ground repairs.

The following pages of this special report will cover many other aspects of what satellite communications is all about, concluding with a roundup of what's currently available in satellite communications products and services. Direct-broadcast satellites and the impact of domestic satellites on the CATV industry and videoconferencing will be covered in more detail in our April special reports on broadcasting, cable TV and closed-circuit TV.
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Publication:Communications News
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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