Networking in the 21st Century: The Sky's the Limit
By Christy Hudgins-Bonafield
Forget the Corinthian leather and speedometer. They don't stand up to the radiation and 27,000-kilometer-per-hour pace. In fact, there isn't a whole lot on the face of the earth that actually compares to the enormity and complexity of what's planned in the broadband (T1 or higher) satellite arena. By some tallies, at least 1,300 satellites are slated to be launched in the newly released Ka frequency band alone.
Conservative estimates suggest that some 500 broadband satellites will be available in about 10 years. Some high-speed services that blend the old with the new will ramp up as early as midyear. Most Ka-band systems, however, won't officia lly embrace broadband customers until the year 2002.
Four efforts alone--Lockheed Martin's Astrolink, Motorola-Matra Marconi Space's Celestri, Hughes' Spaceway, and Craig McCaw and Bill Gates' Teledesic--plan to launch 405 satellites at a cost in excess of $37 billion. Together these constellations call for aggregate bandwidth of about 3 terabits per second, or the equivalent of about 2 million T1 lines.
And a lot of this new bandwidth is targeted at business. Gartner Group and Pioneer Consulting both predict that up to 15 percent of all business bandwidth will eventually come from broadband satellites, with these high-flying birds taking on 7 percent by 2005, according to Gartner Group. What these analysts make clear is that satellites will take more than a dainty bite out of the ever-growing pie that is high-speed networking demand.
In addition, says Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres, the demand for broadband shot skyward about the same time as the technical innovations making it possible--including ACTS, advances in miniaturization and new composite materials.
These breakthroughs came at a time when U.S. defense contractors were retooling to take on commercial ventures--especially those involving government technology transfer. They also paralleled the weakening of Cold War resentments, making launch sites in China and Russia available to U.S. providers. And new sites and cheaper launch vehicles continue to emerge, driven by demand. In addition, the near completion of Motorola' s narrowband Iridium constellation helped prove to the world that large satellite systems could be mass-manufactured and launched on a tight timeline.
All this, of course, would mean nothing if there wasn't a market. But even in the most sophisticated infrastructures, like those in the United States, broadband satellites meet a need that no other resource addresses in any significant way. These new birds can extend high-speed networking beyond the trunks where it predominates to reach into businesses, remote offices, homes, the rain forest, developing nations, mountainous terrain and beyond. The promise is high-speed bandwidth on demand.
By relying on next-generation satellites, merging companies will be able to unify disparate communications infrastructures in the time it takes to install terminals. National and multinational companies can demand not only a single point of contact, but, in many cases, a unified technology and management infrastructure. And the still-growing twin giants--the Internet an d intranet--will find much-needed headroom in the sky above.
The Broadband Satellite and High-Altitude Systems
charts, in Acrobat format. (with additional online-only information)
LEOs Dance The Jitterbug (with additional online-only information)
GEOs Turn Up The Speed Of Light (with additiona l online-only information)
Slicing Through the Hype of IP Switching
By Joel Conover
Morphing TCP Technology For Space Travel
The Achilles Heel Of Next-Generation Satellites