KEY ISSUES

If one looks ahead to the decade of the 1990s, the global communications satellite market will most likely expand very rapidly into personal communications and new mobile satellite services (PCS and MSS, respectively), low earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems, GPS navigation, and new direct broadcast satellite services. LEO satellite services should be introduced by the late 1990s, with growth dependent on competitive factors for which it is too early to make predictions. Conventional fixed satellite services (FSS) and maritime mobile satellite services (MMSS) should continue to grow steadil y but not as rapidly as before.

Also in the 1990s, fixed satellite service will be severely challenged by optical fiber cables now being installed throughout the world. These cables will carry digital data at very high data rates (HDR equal to /great er than 155 Mb/s) with signal quality and error performance as good or better than satellites, and with much less time delay. Satellite services, to survive in a cable environment, must demonstrate their advantages for HDR transmission and networking as they have for more modest data rates (e.g., T1 = 1.5 Mb/s). These advantages include wide area coverage, distance insensitivity, flexibility, multiple access and destination capabilities, and economy -- preferably several of these characteristics in comm on. Although the availability of fiber optics will undoubtedly move much HDR traffic, such as multi-channel telephone trunks, from satellites to cables, they should also open new opportunities for HDR satellites in services such as HDTV distribution and in the emerging field of distributed high performance computing (DHPC). To capture this market, HDR satellites must be developed, demonstrated, and deployed for commercial use.

What is abundantly clear is that the world of satellite communications is changing fast. While new opportunities are opening for mobile, broadcast and personal services, threats exist for the traditional fixed service. While the United States was an agent of change in the past, it may not be in the future. The results of th is year-long review of satellite communications technology and systems clearly reveal that the dominant role played by U.S. industry and technology in the first twenty-five years of satellite service is over and U.S. leadership is being challenged.

Cu rrently, there are only a handful of areas in which the U.S. technology for this field is predominant. In a number of other areas, the U.S. could be said to be even or nearly even, but in a wide range of critical technologies the U.S. lags behind. In so me the U.S. can be said to be lagging significantly. Figures 1.1a, 1.1b, and 1.1c, in stark contrast to Table 1.1, provide a form of scorecard that att empts to reflect the panel's view of where the U.S. stands today and perhaps even more importantly, where it may stand some ten years hence, based upon R&D programs currently in place around the world. Figures 1.1a to 1.1c show only one technology, h igh data rate communications, in which the U.S. is anticipated to hold its lead, and that will depend on successful exploitation of NASA's Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS).


Figure 1.1a. Comparative Analysis of Key Satellite Technologies


Figure 1.1b. Comparative Analysis of Key Satellite Technologies


Figure 1.1c. Comparative Analysis of Key Satellite Technologies

There are a number of reasons why the panel's rather bleak assessment of the future of U.S. communications satel lite technology and systems is justified. These include a reduced U.S. governmental role, lagging R&D effort, lack of systems conceptualization, non-focussing of effort in new applications, and lack of effective industrial liaison and cooperation. T hese reasons are set forth throughout this report. Some key elements are emphasized here to show the breadth, depth and scope of the problem. Figure 1.2, for instance, shows that during the 1970s and 1980s there was extremely limit ed U.S. R&D activity in satellite communications projects, while in Europe and Japan there were frequent and diverse research programs in this area. Figure 1.3, compares the current number of specific research programs in satell ite communications in orbit, under development, or currently scheduled for launch in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Although these programs differ widely in technological and budgetary scope, the overall impression of the U.S. quickly losing ground in the f ield of satellite communications is essentially correct.

The roles that governments play in setting policy, planning, and supporting industrial development in various high technology fields vary widely from one country to the next. As is clearly sh own in Table 1.2, European and Japanese governments promote satellite communications much more aggressively than does the U.S. government. This trend is also evident in Figure 1.4, which compares the resources allocated to satellite communications over three decades. Particularly in the last ten years, NASA has spent much less on satellite communications technology development than either the Japanese National Space Development Agency (NASDA) or the European Space Agency (ESA), although NASA's total budget is many times greater. Currently, ESA and NASDA each devote about 10% of their budgets to satellite communications and related activities; NASA spends less than 1%.

Table 1.2
Comparison of Government Roles


Figure 1.2. World Development of Communications Satellite Advances


Figure 1.3. A Comparative View: Experimental Communications Satellite Projects in the United States, Japan, and Europe


Figure 1.4. Annual Funding for Satellite Communications Programs

It is almost impossible to review Figures 1.1a, 1.1b, 1.1c, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 and not conclude that the lack of a well defined, continuing and comparable research and development program in satellite technology and related applications has indeed left U.S. technology and its satellite communications industry clearly at risk.

There are some who might respond to this key conclusion with the question: "So what?" Simply stated, the response is that satellite communications is indeed strategically important to the U.S. in terms of commercial interests, national defe nse, and governmental services. Today satellite communications is the single largest commercial application of space technology in the world. In the next decade this will be even more true than it is today, as new and dynamic sectors of the industry ach ieve spectacular growth.

In the decade ahead the satellite communications business (excluding military communications) will, as shown in Table 1.3, expand from approximately $15 billion (U.S.) to about $30 to $40 billion. This i s a growth rate that few other market sectors will achieve. Perhaps more importantly, developments in this field have a leveraged impact on the global economy. Just in the area of global electronic fund transfers -- which are accomplished via satellite circuits for the majority of the countries of the world -- the volume of activity was some $300 trillion for 1992. In all areas, whether it be airline transport, international and national retailing, stock trading, insurance and banking, manufacturing, o r entertainment, news and diplomacy, the fundamental impact of satellite communications is clear. Despite fiber optic cable facilities, satellites still provide some 60% of the world's intercontinental telecommunications.

Large stakes are involved he re. It is not trivial that in Europe and in Japan, the commercial and strategic importance of satellite communications has been clearly identified and that the levels of funding and of flight-based experimental programs are two to five times larger than in the U.S. The degree of political review and involvement is much higher and the integration of governmental and industrial planning mechanisms is clearly better developed and achieves faster, more enduring and more practical results. If all of the abo ve trends persist, then it is clear that the United States' once proud leadership role in satellite communications will continue to erode dramatically and, a decade hence, its position in terms of technology and advanced applications will seriously lag be hind Europe and especially Japan. Even Russia may claim a lead in some key areas.

This overview chapter summarizes the key findings, analysis and conclusions of the panel with specific details provided in the body of the report. The remainder of thi s chapter is organized into sections on Europe, Japan, Russia, and General Conclusions. It is geographically integrated and organized on the basis of specific technologies, applications or regulatory issues. The detailed table of contents assist in find ing specific topics.

Table 1.3
The Decade Ahead in Satellite Communications Services


Published: July 1993; WTEC Hyper-Librarian