Gulf War II (GWII) seems to have been good for satellite. Most major operators, while not gloating about the business won, saw significant traffic gains during the build up and action. Broadcasters also took thousands of circuits, with non-stop coverage boosting ratings at home. The sat-phone specialists also had a good war, especially Thuraya which with Inmarsat was able to supply more than 1200 of its latest-generation Regional B-GAN terminals.
As to mainstream satellite operators, PanAmSat and Intelsat also boosted military traffic while Eutelsat reportedly won a new US military contract for Gulf coverage. There can be little doubt that the military’s use of commercial satellites is growing at a pace. A major military space conference last year talked of demand growing exponentially. Klaus Becher, senior Fellow at the European Institute for Security Studies, said he expected US defence bandwidth requirements to grow from a typical sub-1 Gigabits/s demand today to in excess of 10 Gigabits/s by 2010. Of that amount some 40-45% would be satisfied by the US’ own sat-coms build programme, with the balance coming from leases within the commercial sector.
Last month’s Iraqi action seems to confirm the demand. General Ed Eberhart, Commander in Chief: North American Aerospace Defense Command/US Space Command, speaking at the conference, denied the military were so-called “bandwidth hogs”, stating “[bandwidth] simply makes us more efficient and effective, allowing for fewer casualties.” While much of GWII’s televisual action concentrated on ground-based military units, both air and sea services also see demand increasing. Captain Dave Markham, head of the US Navy’s Space & Communications Branch, said the navy’s demands (typically per vessel) had grown from a 75 baud teletype service back in the Vietnam War period to 9.6 Kb/s during Desert Storm to 3Mb/s for aircraft carriers operating in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea ahead of GWII. He also predicted significant increase in bandwidth, even down to supplying troops with multi-channel TV as well as more specific – and demanding - operational equipment.
Eugene Staffa who works within Intelsat’s strategic and business development department, said that the operator has long and valuable links with the US military which traditionally takes around 10% of its capacity. While war and conflict always make headlines, few of us realise that since the Gulf War there have been around 100 significant military actions across the globe, each requiring increasingly sophisticated communications. Intelsat has beefed up its monitoring sites in Germany (with a new Teleport opening in Fuchsstadt, Germany last June 4), Bahrain, Qatar, India, Ukraine and elsewhere. Intelsat is directly involved in the US navy’s ‘Direct to Sailors’ programme which takes TV signals to around 20 large platforms (carriers and other command vessels) with three channels of TV, 3 of radio and an EPG.
Intelsat say that they were supplying the US Navy with full duplex, high data-rate comms (1.544 Mb/s) for imagery dissemination, intelligence data transfer, video tele-conferencing, tele-medicine and training. Staffa forecast a growing military satcom bandwidth demand rising from today’s 2 Gb/s throughput to more than 12 Gb/s wideband demand, plus a further near-2 Gb/s of narrowband supply, by 2010. His source was the Joint Chief’s December 2000 forecast scenario, and he gave a strong hint that the estimate might be inadequate.
But there’s also another scenario: it suggests that while military traffic will build, that of using satellite for news gathering (SNG) will dwindle. Associated Press Television News is the well-known video news agency, a wholesaler of news, entertainment and sports coverage and a huge user of satellite capacity usually from the world’s trouble spots. But CEO Ian Ritchie predicts next generation cellular telephony is taking over the once exclusive domain of satellite. “I increasingly expect that the use of satellites will disappear over time, and that might be in 5 or 10 years time.”
APTN came into being in 1998 as the result of the merger of Associated Press TV and Worldwide Television News (WTN). Ritchie says APTN’s satellite broadcast services division represents some 30%-35% of its annual income. APTN’s cameramen and women have won praise for their heroic efforts, sometimes even giving up their lives as with award-winning Miguel Gil who died in Sierre Leone only a few months after receiving an RTS award for his Kosovo coverage. APTN won another RTS award last year for its extraordinary September 11 coverage. Its reporters were very much in the front line during GWII.
“The way we are structured commercially is that our clients are on long-term contracts and we simply have to cover this breaking news whatever the cost. We cannot go running back to clients saying, ‘by the way we want more cash’. The major networks, whether American or European have tended to put their own anchors into these major [war] stories and try to maintain a balance, drawing on us for, say, satellite links as well as filling in gaps that they have missed.”
Ritchie paints a somewhat gloomy picture for future satellite demand. “We look at the huge attraction of the Internet as a delivery tool for our sort of ingest, and we have looked at having our own distribution system. The thing is that real time will always be important, and we have to remember that cost will also be a part of the equation, as will the cost of getting decoders to our clients. The ideal is that in 5 or 10 years from now, and at another [war]-type situation, we would be able to use live, real-time, internet-based distribution systems using cell-phones, 3G or similar telephone connectivity. We could, in theory, abandon the dishes. Add in the growing dependence on fibre and you can see which way the wind is blowing.”
Gulf War II: the UK demand:
Using Paradigm’s welfare communications service
Over 40,000 troops serving in the current Gulf conflict keeping in touch with home
15 self-contained, air-conditioned cabins currently deployed in 5 countries across the Gulf region, containing around 350 telephone handsets and 200 PCs
Paradigm supplied some 1,000 IRIDIUM and GLOBALSTAR satellite communications handsets into the Middle East for welfare calls
RN / RFA access is provided via 35 Maritime INMARSAT terminals and 34 MENTOR lines
700,000 disposable welfare phone cards, 40,000 account cards and 100,000 £10 private cards – available to purchase in theatre – produced specifically
1,500,000 minutes of calls were connected in the first 6 weeks of the deployment
US military bandwidth needs*
Desert Storm 70 Mb/s
Allied Force 170 Mb/s
Op. Enduring Freedom 470 Mb/s
2010 total military satcom demand