by Adrian Ballintine
The talking heads continue to prattle on about FttN (Fiber-to-the-Neighborhood) or FttH (Fiber-to-the-Home) and how WiMAX might extend broadband delivery in Australia. However, the element not addressed concerns the most remote Australians, those whose isolated locations make the delivery of fair and equitable broadband connectivity most difficult to deliver. These would-be users continue to be overlooked, and are, only slowly, crossing into the digital divide.
There have been, and still remain, a range of government initiatives to supply a fix for these Australians who do not possess broadband connectivity. To date, at last count, they number around 300,000, but there may be considerably more. Australian Bureau of Statistics research published this year indicates farmers are generally relying on dial-up services for the Internetoften at STD rates!
Between 2001 and 2006 the number of Australian households acquiring Internet access nearly doubled. In major cities today, nearly two-thirds of all homes have Internet access.
The downside for remote Australia is that less than half, in fact only 42 percent of remote Australian households, have any Internet connection at all. The picture worsens when it comes to those families and homes connected to broadband that are able to access the digital world of eCommerce as well as the triple play of voice, data, and video. Less than half the homes in major cities have broadband and less than a quarter of remote Australian households have broadband.
Additionally, indigenous households are about half as likely to have broadband when compared to non-indigenous households. The government broadband initiatives started in earnest with the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme (HiBIS), morphed through various iterations of ABGat the state level, numerous policies remain in place. The latest policy involves the Western Australian (WA) Government, in Kimberley, and how to bring broadband, and its benefits, to 16 regional and remote locations. The areas range from Broome to Turkey Creek, three national parks, and other services and locations that are spread throughout the vast northwestern region.
Billions of dollars are involved in order to connect the relatively easy locations of Australia. Yet there is no current national satellite policy, and no explicit, over-arching policy solution, yet, for the remotest of Australians. The same holds true for the 80 percent of the Australian landmass devoid of fiber and other similar technologies.
Therefore, while we are prepared, as a nation, to spend more than $4.7 billion of taxpayers money on new fiber for regional and rural Australia (in addition to the billions already committed), we havent focused on those most in need, the hardest to connect those in remote Australia. This includes those travelling in these out-of-the-way areas, fighting bushfires, mopping up after cyclones, those who are living and working in the bulk of the Australian land mass. These folk are not, and never will be, served by fiber, WiMAX or anything elseonly satellite can fulfil their communication needs.
Happily, for those people in the bush, it is in satellite technology that a paradigm shift is now apparent. Satellite is appearing where it is most needed, with increasing cost efficiency and performance. And because of this startling change, the cost structure of satellite performance is being re-written. The end-user, that farmer in the bush, or that fire fighter at the fire front, will now enjoy better data and voice transmission (even video streaming, if he or she has time!) at a new, low price.
Why isnt this new satellite technology available in urban Australia and the region today? Why are the satellite operators not talking this up with government or the technical community? Could the answer be found in the fact that there is still capacity for sale on the old technology satellite fleets over this area?
The new paradigm and its benefits are based in ViaSats Surfbeam hub technology, spot beams and gateways, and a satellite loaded with Ka-band. None of these technologies are available from the Thai or Singaporean owned satellite operators in Australia. The only Ka-band sold in Australia is via Optus and thats for military use only.
The Change Is En Route
The North American market is the proving ground for Ka-band technology, and through WildBlue, it has proven to be to the fastest growing consumer satellite broadband, ever. The Canadian Ka-band satellite, with this same technology, closed its sales book just 18 months after its launch. The WildBlue satellite for the U.S., launched two years later in early 2007, is estimated to reach full capacity in only 15 months.
Driving the demand that stimulates these results are the following statistics: The world consumer Internet traffic is estimated to use approximately 3 terabytes (thats 1,000 gigabytes) per month in 2008this will double to 6 TB in just two years.
The demand for broadband connection is alive and well in Australia and the new Ka-band and Surfbeam technology, together with newly developed proprietary technology from NewSat partners, ViaSat, offers superb performance at a fraction of the cost of the current worlds best practice.
Yet, in Australia, we have not even migrated to Ka-band for consumers, business, and general government, nor have we embraced even the SurfBeam technology. Regardless, NewSat is installing the first hub in the region, making us, as a nation, not one, but two steps behind the forefront of satellite technology. Plus, NewSat has announced to the industry that it is completing the service offering to the market with its intention to additionally launch its own satellite over Australia and the region by 2011.
In Europe, Eutelsat, the largest EU satellite company (with a fleet of 24 satellites), and the third largest satellite owner and operator in the world, has been the first mover to adopt this paradigm shift on that continent. Eutelsat announced that Europe would have its first Ka/ViaSat satellite in 2010. Eutelsat claims their new satellite will deliver more consumer connectivity than all of the rest of their fleet (24 satellites) combined. ViaSat has also announced that it will launch its own satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), over North America.
The company is well placed to extend its on-the-ground services from its two teleports in Adelaide and Perth, where it has 23 antennas, some up to 13 meters in diameter. These connect to 12 satellites operated by the worlds biggest space players, including Intelsat, SES NewSkies, and others, which are global in coverage. The next step is quite obvious... the company has already announced it will offer Australias first non-military Ka-band satellite, and has already invested in the SurfBeam hub. This combination takes the nation one step closer to the cutting edge of satellite performance and price.
What magnitude of price slashing are we discussing? In August 2007, NewSat offered to sell ABG entry-level Ku-based broadband connectivity to remote Australians at 30 percent less than the best of the rest in the market. Under Ka-band, the pricing is expected to drop even further. As some pricing considerations remain commercially sensitive at this time, where prices may go is anyones guess as 60 percent off is already a huge slice, given an ABG licence. The picture is clear for remote Australians under a Ka-band supply. They wont be paying monthly bandwidth fees such as they are today and their fees could be guaranteed against the ravages of inflation and interest rates because of the adoption of NewSats proposed satellite with Ka-band and its associated technology.
As of this writing, the company is in negotiations to establish itself at the forefront of this global technology breakthrough. There are some critics stating this breakthrough in satellite technology has yet to be proven in the field. Other experts claim the technology has been tested by some of the biggest space companies in the world for three years and is simply a progression of todays expertise. The technology is, indeed, the fastest growing, most highly tested and proven broadband connection in the history of satellite telecommunications.
The former view of satellite communication, that it suffers from jitter and latency hurdles, is diminishing. The jitter is being eradicated by improved technology latency will never be extinguished. Rather, latency is diminished as evidenced by the commercial quality VoIP service over satellite offered by companies such as NewSat, streaming of video over satellite, and a number of commercial uses such as developed by the Victoria State Governments Spatial Information Unitthey can now transmit data packages for controlled farming purposes at world-record and award winning new levels.
We are currently witnessing rapid changes in technological solutions in metropolitan and regional Australia, with the industry now talking up FttH. The future of major roll-outs to regional Australia appear uncertain.
What NewSat is proposing is a holistic solution to the many disadvantaged people, businesses, government projects, curriculum, and medical services. NewSat will provide delivery as well as defence and emergency communications across the entire continent, wherever it is needed, including seaward. Wherever FttN, FttN + WiMAX, FttH, or any other solution that is decided upon or emerges from the industry, falls short, the NewSat Ka-band satellite coverage can solve the problems.
The myriad of broadband shortcomings now documented by the government can best be resolved by a big picture solution. The answer could resemble what NewSat presents, rather than bandages and add-ons. Those would be relatively expensive to implement and operate as temporary fixes, as well as being short lived in the face of rapidly changing technology.
NewSat will work closely (as it does already) with the States, NGOs, and other groups who will benefit from the satellite platform at a high level of performance, and at a price point never previously considered. The company judges these elements fundamental to the social equity equation. They are also proud to be leading the nation in delivering this infrastructure, and making it available to consumers, to government and as a wholesaler to other down-stream retail telecommunication providers.
The first NewSat and only indigenous satellite for Australia will be Jabiru. The payload is expected to be a mixture of transponders and that is being defined by preliminary discussions with targeted clients. Jabiru will be a comparatively large satellite weighing more than an estimated 5 tons, with a life expectancy of 15 years. NewSat is in negotiations with a number of parties for allocation of a necessary geostationary slot.
NewSats world-class teleports have provided the companys springboard for the Jabiru satellite project. The paradigm shift in technology around the world illustrates the powerful reason why NewSat is extending its business to become a complete satellite/space model. As explained in this article, NewSat believes Australia should have its own satellite/s to fix the countrys own problems and maximize the productivity and emergency communication opportunities for the nation as a whole while satisfying the needs of those in remote areas. For information on NewSats satellite coverage, use this link. For more information on the company, head over to their website.
About the author
Adrian Ballintine is the Chief Executive Officer for NewSat Limited. Adrian is experienced in building successful technology companies, such as Gupta and Asymetrix. He has developed NewSat from its launch into an eminent position today as an independent satellite services leader in the Asia-Pacific region.