by Bruce R. Elbert
President, Application Technology Strategy, Inc.
Pacific Telecommunications Council just completed its annual conference, PTC ’08. Held in Honolulu, Hawaii, it provided another opportunity for attendees to share a truly collegial and tropical environment
My initial experience with this exceptional conference was in 1986 at a time when satellite communications was a major element of regional infrastructure and fiber optic systems, not yet dominant, were making excellent headway. I recall my experiences and wish to share my reflections as to how the conference and regional satellites have faired over 20-plus years of PTCs existence.
1986 - The Small but Vital Conference, with a Broad Reach
My first PTC was a delightful experience, as much for the location in Hawaii as the range of interesting attendees and speakers. It was a small and friendly gathering of commercial and government telecom professionals who needed a venue to update themselves on industry developments, plus programs and projects we each had in the pipeline. One attendee from New Zealand confided that while he had come a considerable distance, PTC was the only event where telecom was discussed at his level of interest and need.
The entire conference fit within a few meeting rooms at the Regent Hotel on Waikiki. We often met by the pool for discussions on varied topics. Absent were major telecoms from the U.S. and Europe; instead, there were many delegates from universities, GTE (the local telephone company), PTTs (Post, Telegraph and Telephone) on Pacific islands, a few satellite professionals, and a host of researchers and bureaucrats who offered a variety of views on what they thought was important in regard to regional development.
There was no exhibit space and only a few commercial messages were apparent. In fact, you were not supposed to promote your company or its products. Rather than the typical plenary session at the beginning, there was a final meeting where a student from the University of Hawaii read a summary of all of the sessions throughout the conference. This was feasible as the conference was presented in sequence with essentially no parallel sessions. Overall, PTC was worthwhile because you could learn elements about telecom in the Pacific without traveling among the far-flung islands.
1995 New Satellite Opportunities at the Front of the Fiber Era
I fast forward to my next PTC, held in 1995 at the Sheraton Waikiki. I arrived from the Philippines that morning and learned on the rental car bus that Los Angeles had just experienced the Northridge, California earthquake. Lacking a satellite phone, I rushed to my car and stopped at a payphone to be certain my wife and daughters were OK. After everything settled down, I discovered a much-expanded conference with real exhibit booths positioned in the open reception area, rather than in the typical exhibit hall. PTC was no longer an academic exercise: it was now a commercial endeavor.
PTC in 1995 seemed like other satellite industry shows, complete with sessions on such topics as mobile satellite service, launch vehicle services (hosted by Ed Ward of Lockheed Martin), and the global advance of GEO satellites used in developing countries. Motorola was constructing Iridium and Inmarsat had introduced their Inmarsat 3 satellites able to serve a telephone the size of a suit-case size. One of these luggable phones was demod at our session of the conference. Trans-Pacific fiber systems had been proven reliable by this time and that part of the industry had a strong buzz at PTC.
This conference revealed the Pacific Region was one that deserved the attention of major equipment and service providers, satellite and terrestrial. However, we were yet to experience the Internet-inspired telecom boom that was on its way.
2001 Satellites Take a Back Seat to Big Telecoms with Bigger Expectations
My next chance to attend PTC was in 2001 at a time when regional and global telecom was big and still booming. Asia was heading into the doldrums due to the now-familiar economic dropsome of the enthusiasm was waning for Asian telecom investing. However, there were large exhibits at PTC from satellite companies as the demand for technology and services remained strong. While the satellite industry was weathering the storm, it still had a small presence with a limited number of conference sessions.
PTC was held in the now-familiar Mid-Pacific Conference Center at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, affording a decent-sized exhibit space. As an example of the power of PTC networking, JSAT exhibited and it was here that one of my clients obtained key information about the forthcoming launch of JCSat-2a. This satellite was subsequently selected for rollout of this clients new Pacific region service.
MCI, now Verizon Business, hosted a huge party at the Alii Towerit seemed as though every conference attendee showed up. Loral also held an enjoyable reception that became a must-attend for subsequent PTC shows.
2004 A Meltdown in Telecom Doesnt Necessarily Pull Satellites Under
PTC in 2004 was considerably smaller than past years as the big telecom organizations were cutting their support and marketing budgets. As a result, satellite companies such as Intelsat, Loral and JSAT were gaining in prominence. More sessions dealt with satellite issues than ever before, and fiber optics was treated as basic infrastructure.
One aspect that gained tremendous importance was the use in, and vulnerability of, telecom and satellites during natural disasters. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack, terrorist actions were also considered as a standard element of disaster preparedness and recovery. Starting in 2004, the role of satellites in disaster and contingency planning became a central PTC theme. My overall impression of 2004 and other recent PTC events is that they are even more relevant to the needs of users in the Pacific Region.
2008 Appropriate Scale for Satellites and Fiber
PTC in the New Year appears to be following its focus on the fundamentals. In the 20 years Ive attended PTC, the conference and the industry may have come full circle. Gone are the massive telecom projects like Global Crossing and Teledesic. Today, major providers of technology such as Cisco and Alcatel, and services like AT&T and Intelsat, focus their attention on a broad market that buys a narrower range of products and services.
What we do with the services has changed along with industry structure. We mix and match the network and the terminal devices to address a variety of commercial and public needs. PTC and its Oahu venue are both known as THE Gathering Place, as much as because of the events central location in the Pacific, as for the people who attend the exhibition and conference. Satellite systems and services are now a focus of PTC because of their greater reach in delivering the services demanded by the commercial and government sectors of the Pacific region. The next 20 years of PTC offerings should be as equally interesting as the past two decades of PTC history and is a highly recommended addition to your exhibition calendar.
Bruce Elbert has more than 30 years experience in satellite communications and is president of the consulting firm Application Technology Strategy, Inc. (ATSI), which assists major users and developers of satellite systems and applications. He is an author and educator in this field, having published seven titles and conducted technical and business training around the world. During 25 years with Hughes Electronics, he directed major technical projects and led business activities in the US and overseas. He is the author of The Satellite Communication Applications Handbook, 2nd edition (2004, Artech House). Website: www.applicationstrategy.com.