Excerpts from an Article “Is there a future for Satellite Comms?”

Published in BAPCO Journal, January 2009

(British Association of Public Safety Communication Officers)

Satellite is far more expensive than 3G and offers a level of service that may only rarely need to be used. And for managers looking to cut costs, a move away from satellite is perhaps attractive. However, an assessment of the way satellite communications are used may be a more profitable option in terms of both level of service and costs.

Tom Wheeler, technical manager at Tariam Satellite Communications, admits that satellite communications services are an expensive option. “In the current economic environment, everyone rightly has an eye on costs. The problem is the words ‘cheap’ and ‘satellite’ cannot readily be used in the same sentence for business grade services.

This is because the cost of the satellites and the sophisticated infrastructure has to be passed on to the end customer, as well as the site equipment and basic connectivity. So when you are paying for your airtime and hardware, you are paying for a share of those costs as well. Satellites are expensive to build, launch and run, and the corresponding services are of the highest quality, as this is what the sector demands, and so it’s hard to make the services cheap.”

However, a shift in the type of technology being used may offer a future solution. Tariam’s Wheeler explains: “One of the key factors limiting bringing down the price of satellite communications is the current technology and available satellite capacity in the required spectrum. The vast majority of the satellite capacity for voice and data (IP)
communications over Europe, Africa and the Middle East is on Ku band. However, we are just launching the first services on Ka band in Europe. Because of the way the Ka spectrum works and the frequencies involved, this means we can put up to ten times more data over our network. It is massively more efficient in terms of what we can do, and so we can pass that cost reduction on to the end customer.

“At the moment, there is really only one satellite over Europe providing Ka band and there’s little spare capacity on it, but a new Ka band satellite will be launched in 2010 that will give us substantial more capacity and will enable us to make these reduced cost Ka services more widely available. Ka band equipment is smaller, cheaper and simpler. As a result of the frequencies used, dish sizes are smaller. From the other perspective, much higher
levels of bandwidth can be made available over relatively small and inexpensive equipment. So, over the next few years, the cost of airtime and hardware will reduce significantly, but realistically we won’t see commercial enterprise and government-level Ka-based services being made available much before Q1 2011.”

© The BAPCO Journal.

Reproduced with the kind permission of The BAPCO Journal.

BAPCO is a professional association that promotes the development of efficient and effective communications to provide value for money and effective systems to enhance delivery of public safety and civil contingency services for the benefit of the public and for the benefit of individual public safety and civil contingency services and personnel by means of research, planning, co-ordination and education.

Launched over a decade ago The BAPCO Journal is the only publication in the UK written exclusively for and on behalf of all communications and information technology officers and decision makers within the public safety sector. As the official publication of the British Association of Public Safety Communication Officers The BAPCO Journal serves to disseminate information on all aspects of communications and information technology.