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The View From SSPI
Year In Review
by Louis Zacharilla, Director of Development,
The Society of Satellite Professionals International

The best-selling author Stephen King would later recall that it was the day that terrified him more than anything he could have ever imagined…

It was October 4, 1957, and the young boy, along with the rest of the human race—and specifically the free people of the world—experienced one of the most traumatic and threatening moments since the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor 16 years earlier. On that day, a 184-pound radio transmitter, named Sputnik I, appeared in what the ancients once called “the heavens.”

But that first bird was not launched with angelic intentions. It was a strategic political tool, blunt and malicious, whose intention was to scare the West into believing that it was technologically inferior and that its survival was dependent entirely now on the whims of dictatorship in a closed, dark and musty closet of a society called the Soviet Union.

However 50 years later, in Washington, DC—in the very city that holds the heart of the government Sputnik was trying to destroy—the year 2007 began with a celebration of that day’s activity. Konstantin Seredenyakov of the Embassy of the Russian Federation joined the CEOs and representatives from private and national satellite operators from around the globe, as well as Anousheh Ansari, the first woman private citizen to visit space (aboard a Soyuz rocket!), to celebrate the Society of Satellite Professionals International’s observance of the first 50 years of satellites in space. The event took place at SSPI’s annual Gala in Washington, the evening prior to the annual Satellite conference.

From that evening in February through the end of the year, 2007 was one that showed how the satellite industry has changed since its tough birth, and demonstrated dramatically how much the world has been changed by satellites.

2007 was the year when companies, large and small, entered into a furious round of financial kabuki, ventures, mergers, and acquisitions, which will forever change the competitive landscape and focus of the industry. The high profile consolidation in the fixed operator world, culminating with the completion of the Loral Skynet/Telesat deal, was among the marquee events. But what was bubbling beneath the surface was also of importance: Arqiva purchased BT’s satellite services and assets, while Datapath snapped-up SWE-DISH and mighty Cisco, in a rare show of respect, allowed Scientific-Atlanta to do business as Scientific-Atlanta, an acknowledgement of the power of the brand and its satellite heritage. Andrew decided to sell its satellite business and others also found private equity partners willing to help cash out or continue to expand their presence, as the world’s appetite for communications grew more ravenous. In 2007, the trend of smaller and smaller businesses and industries embracing satellite continued, which impacts the life of more and more individuals. By May, policy makers and analysts began to accept the claim by a satellite industry-formed think tank, the Intelligent Community Forum (www.intelligentcommunity.org), that we are now experiencing life in “The Broadband Economy,” and that much of the transformation is being fueled by satellites.

While the satellite industry’s headline deals and activities are always the main topics at conferences and their panel sessions, a peek into other interesting corners of the industry also reveal that initiatives once thought to be stalled, or questionable, began to flourish.

In September, at the World Satellite Business Week event in Paris, WildBlue Communications, which is bringing satellite broadband to rural North America, reported that it was exceeding its subscriber projections—and then some! Satellites began to make their presence felt in movie theatres; in Africa (where Internet growth reached nearly 700 percent) and even in parts of the world where fiber is the rule—such as Taipei, where a devastating earthquake proved that terrestrial systems are vulnerable to forces of nature which do not impact satellites. Were it not for satellites, the nation, which produces the lion’s share of the world’s information technology components, would have gone silent.

In the small town of Evandale, Ohio (USA), satellites even helped law enforcement do its job and helped to catch a couple of bank robbers. On September 14th Kenneth Maples climbed into his white Ford pickup, with his wife at the wheel, and slipped into heavy traffic on the Interstate, convinced that he had safely gotten away with stealing $7,000 from PNC Bank. Bonnie and Clyde they ain’t. Mr. and Mrs. Maples never had a chance… a GPS tracking device tucked inside the stolen cash allowed local cops and the FBI to follow the signals until, with laughably minimal effort, the two were stopped at a roadblock and informed that the satellite industry had done them in!

The industry continues to be a key backbone and enabler in the emergence of HDTV, cellular backhaul—which gives telecommunications carriers more customers in remote regions, and fresh bouquets of content to TVs and devices. In Korea, a “U-City” initiative (as in ubiquitous) mandated any form of content will soon be delivered to any device, anywhere. The satellite industry, including leading thinkers and technologists like VOD pioneer, TVN Entertainment’s CTO Dom Stasi, acknowledged that only satellite would make the Korean vision truly universal.

The year also saw both Sea Launch and International Launch Services recover from failed launches to bounce back again to deliver the goods in October and November, respectively. Sea Launch, with an impeccable recovery and management of the facts surrounding the event, categorized and reported by Paula Korn in the October issue of APSCC, highlighted again that satellites are like life—not risk free. But as in life, they truly offer redemption and successes beyond anyone’s imagination 50 years ago.

The industry again showed its magnificent heart and capabilities. When devastating fires struck the American state of California in October, Globecomm Systems contributed a 1.2-meter antenna, space segment and its expertise to a relief agency struggling with the impact of an exodus from the flames that dislocated a reported 500,000 people. Thanks to an Internet Café set-up to provide access for people, including firefighters, the Red Cross and volunteers (many of whom were able to remain on site and manage their affairs back home thanks to the access), Globecomm again proved that its tag line “A Little Bit of Satellite Goes a Long Way” pretty much nails it.

And finally, in Europe, the World Radio Communications Conference (WRC-07) rejected requests from terrestrial companies seeking access to C-band spectrum. The users of C-band were protected, but more important, the millions and millions of people who rely on satellite communications for essential communications and entertainment in Digital Age, no longer have to life in fear that another “attack,” like the one in 1957, will create a scary day.

It’s been a remarkable launch since 1957—and the ascent continues to point toward the heavens.

Louis Zacharilla is the Director of Development, The Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI), a nonprofit member-benefit society that serves satellite professionals throughout their careers. The Society promotes the development of, and access to, high-quality, satellite-related education on the post-secondary and continuing (adult) levels through scholarships, development of curricula, hosting conferences and publishing the world's first online journal on space communications.

SSPI also assists satellite professionals to advance their careers by creating opportunities for them to do business with each other and learn from each other through Chapter programs, social networking, our membership database and publications. SSPI also works to increase the professionalism and professional standing of members in every sector of the global satellite industry through partnerships with leading educational institutions and the private sector. Extraordinary achievement by satellite professionals and the companies they work for are also honored by the Society through the Satellite Hall of Fame and Industry Innovators awards programs.