Commercial Satellite Broadband Systems Growing

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An improved outlook for mobile broadband services, leasing rather than owning satellites, and military users becoming early adopters of new commercial technology top the list of the newest trends in the commercial satellite world, according to Joseph Pelton, director of the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute at George Washington University here.

Speaking at a recent executive briefing at George Washington University about future trends in space communications, Pelton said a recent survey shows commercial satellite broadband systems will play a bigger role in providing connectivity for both military and commercial users.

The renewed interest in mobile broadband services is being driven, he said, by the rapidly rising demand for bandwidth among military users, the leasing of more satellite capacity by the Connexion by Boeing service and the recent launch of new satellites by Inmarsat.

Connexion, which uses satellites to provide broadband Internet access and other services to commercial aircraft in flight, is one of the new services that are keeping their costs down by leasing existing in-orbit capacity rather than building and launching satellites, Pelton said.

Inmarsat’s new mobile broadband service also has the benefit of the London-based company’s existing base of 350,000 users, he added. That allows companies offering new services and applications to leverage off the high capacity and cost efficiency of a large system , Pelton said .

But not everyone agrees that satellite broadband will gain a significant foothold in the marketplace. “Satellite will only gain share in markets not served by some terrestrial alternative, since in virtually all cases where there is a terrestrial alternative to satellite for broadband — which could be cable modem, DSL, broadband over power-line or WiMax — satellite will be more expensive and less attractive to the user,” said Andrea Maleter, technical director at Bethesda, Md.-based satellite market research firm Futron Corp.

The soaring high-bandwidth requirements of modern warfighters also are driving the Pentagon to become an early user of new technology, Pelton said, which has prompted new commercial ventures such as the Loral Space-backed X-Tar satellite system to make demand from the military a key part of their business models.

Another new trend is for hybrid communications services to allow multiple applications to be offered by a single user terminal, Pelton said. Remote sensing, Global Positioning System services and navigation all can be provided by a “smart” user terminal, he explained.

“Hybrid handheld devices will give us a host of new services in the next 10 years,” Pelton told conference attendees.

Neither consumers nor military and homeland security personnel want to be burdened by using more than one terminal to meet all their needs, Pelton said. Integrated databases and global connectivity will hasten that trend, he added.

A key for satellite systems will be to deliver new value-added services that can be integrated with other technologies, Pelton said. Interconnections will become common between fiber-optic cable, wireless and satellite technologies in the years ahead, he added.

“It is stupid to put all of the infrastructure at one location, where it would be vulnerable to a terrorist attack,” Pelton said.