EUROPEAN SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS

The details of European capabilities in satellite communications today and tomorrow are reported in depth in this report by individual technologies and applications as well as, in the site reports by specific corporations and organizations. This section presents an overview which reveals that Europe is devoting considerable financial and intellectual resources to telecommunications for strategic purposes. In particular, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Commission of the European Communities are devoting a much higher percentage of their resources to this field than is being done in the United States, and they have better mechanisms to coordinate their efforts. This coordination is in contrast to the United States, where responsibility for satellite communications is spread across several uncoordinated agencies (e.g., NASA, NTIA, FCC, and DOD); within NASA, the responsible R&D organization, satellite communications efforts are fractionated.

Here are the key findings with regard to Europe.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Its Role in Satellite Communications

ESA is responsible for performing R&D and developing new technology for European space industries for the field of satellite communications. ESA expects that technology to be used in European systems, in international systems in which European countries participate, and for some export sales. ESA conducts studies and surveys to determine what technologies are needed for next generation systems and beyond. The purpose of these exercises is in part to determine which technologies are likely to give European industrial organizations a competitive edge with respect to U.S., Japanese, Canadian, or other countries' industries.

ESA works closely with European industry and system operators to help them develop new technologies for both satellites and ground terminals, to set standards, to test equipment, and to solve key technical problems relating to future satellite systems design.

Perhaps the principal reason for the close ESA-industry cooperation is that ESA's communications program is optional (not mandatory like ESA's scientific exploration programs). This means that only those countries who wish to participate do so. In exchange for their involvement, the participating countries and their industries get to influence the contents of the ESA program and have a higher expectation of benefitting from the programs they help to design. Although industry representatives would like more say, they have a clearer and more effective voice than they do in the U.S. There is clear evidence that if projects are not well coordinated at the start, then ESA can experience sporadic support, as was the case for the so-called H-Sat/L-Sat/OLYMPUS Project wherein France and Germany chose to play limited roles and instead pursued their own TV Sat and TDF direct broadcast satellite (DBS) programs.

Major beneficiaries of ESA's technical development programs have included companies like Matra-Marconi, Alenia Spazio, British Aerospace, Thomson CSF, Aerospatiale, Dornier, MBB, ANT, Telespazio, Alcatel and many other aerospace and electronic corporations. In addition EUTELSAT and Inmarsat have also been key partners with ESA. It has had a particularly interesting impact on Inmarsat which (unlike INTELSAT) has not spent much on research and development, but depends on ESA and industry for most of its advanced technology. Consequently, Inmarsat, with its headquarters in London, tends to have a European character. Inmarsat derives much of its satellite technology from a Maritime European Community Satellite (MARECS) heritage, and is largely dependent on European contractors (though the U.S. has received the largest value of contracts). Currently, ESA draws a rather curious but rather pragmatic distinction in helping Inmarsat extensively with maritime and aeronautical communications worldwide, but not with land mobile, which could result in competitive problems with Europe national land mobile systems. Keeping the roles and relationships straight is not always easy.

ESA's direct support to industry and its contribution to operational systems is in stark contrast to NASA whose policy has been to limit its role to the development of generic technology and to avoid sponsoring developments which might be seen to be of direct benefit to a particular industry or contribute to a specific system. Thus NASA has provided no direct support to the American Mobile Satellite Corporation (AMSC). On the other hand, NASA has attempted to support commercial developments such as satellite communications through universities, research institutes and other government agencies in its development work through grants, cost-sharing concepts under industrial contracts, Centers for Commercial Development of Space, and space grant colleges. As yet, none of these efforts has produced successful results.

Commission on the European Communities: Economic and Policy Arbiter

If ESA is the overall technology leader for communications satellites in Europe, then the European Commission (EC) is clearly the policy leader, setting tough policies on competition, de-regulation, and liberalization of how communications satellite systems and services will work in the 1990s. In the past, at least some European countries such as France have pursued their own unique industrial policies with regard to high technology, including communications satellites. As Europe 1992 and the new provisions of the Treaty of Rome come into effect, the attempt to create clear-cut and universal "European-wide" policies is becoming ever more apparent through the EC, but also through the European Technical Standards Institute (ETSI) and to some extent even through the Committee on European Post and Telegraph (CEPT). Great efforts to consolidate European institutions and integrate research efforts of the European Economic Commission (EEC), the EC, ESA, ETSI, etc. are now openly underway despite some national resistance, particularly in the countries of southern Europe.

Of all these entities the EC has been the most aggressive: seeking to expand its membership to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe; pursuing a variety of R&D programs (e.g., Esprit, RACE, DELTA, and DRIVE); and issuing a number of directives, Green Papers, and other documents to promote deregulation of VSATs and satellite systems and services, etc. Directorates IV, XII, XIII have been particularly active in promoting liberalized telecommunications throughout Europe and in giving highest R&D priority to the areas of telecommunications and information that are considered by the EC to be the highest strategic objectives for longer term industrial growth. The EC has also placed great emphasis on coordination with ETSI to create unified European technical standards and to iron out uniform processes for value added carriers, new entrants into the market, etc. The EC has clearly shaped and influenced how the CEPT, public telecommunications entities and even regional bodies like EUTELSAT do business and in fact restructured their businesses. The EC Green Paper on VSATs led to EUTELSAT's opening its VSAT business (known as SMS) to competitive access. In two years this has led to the doubling of this business's market share, from 5% of revenues in 1990 to 10% today.

European Regional Research Efforts

Both the depth and breadth of European research related to telecommunications and information as well as satellites are impressive. A full 40% of EC R&D is directed toward information, telecommunications and telmatics. This is more than the amounts directed toward the environment, energy or any other sector. EC projects of relevance include RACE, Esprit, OHA, Drive and Delta. These are all dynamic and well-funded projects. Each project area may include over 100 different research or development activities. Over $1 billion will be spent in these areas collectively through 1996.

The EEC, as opposed to the EC, has a separate program known as EUREKA. This program is designed to aid technical development at the grass-roots level with national development of a more near-term nature which can be implemented through the EEC. This multi-billion dollar "bottom-up" program (as opposed to the EC's "top-down" approach) has been extremely effective and represents a further stimulus to Europeanize technical development. Overall the work of the ETSI, the EC and the EEC thus complement the more targeted efforts of ESA in terms of satellite telecommunications development. The regulatory shifts generated by these "technical policy" groups in deregulation, competition, privatization, and European-wide programs and development efforts are arguably more important than ESA's technical efforts in creating an European aerospace and electronics industry that is a world-wide player in the field of satellite communications.

Inmarsat's Innovative Program

Over the last decade Inmarsat has been very ambitious and innovative in introducing new technologies into its satellites and mobile terminals. It has pioneered in the development of L-band technology, compact electronic packaging in both satellites and terminals, and the introduction of digital modulation and multiple access techniques into its system. Inmarsat has been extremely aggressive in expanding its role from voice and telex maritime services to providing a wide variety of aeronautical and land mobile services as well. Growth in terms of traffic, number of uses, and revenues has been rapid, something like 30% per year. Since Inmarsat's unit charges are also decreasing, the financial position of the organization is being greatly strengthened. Over the next eight years, the number of users and traffic volume, as measured in dollars, are expected to expand by a factor of five. Inmarsat also anticipates introducing during this same period its Project 21 satellite system that may combine LEO or medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites with GEO satellites. This is a very ambitious plan to allow users to communicate with hand-held voice transceivers. As a first step in this direction Inmarsat-P, which will allow the use of hand-held units for computer communications, will be introduced in the late 1990s. Inmarsat will thus be in a competitive mode with LEO systems and GEO systems such as those of AMSC and Telesat Mobile Inc. (TMI).

There are several reasons why Inmarsat's attitude is so upbeat and its rate of expansion so much more rapid than the more conservative and established INTELSAT. These are:

EUTELSAT's Surprising Success

EUTELSAT is an organization formed and owned by PTTs to serve the European community's telecommunications needs and the broadcasting needs of the Mediterranean region. It operates an intra-European system that provides the following services: telephone, VSAT business networks (known as SMS), television distribution and broadcast services (23 channels in 10 different languages), radio distribution and mobile voice and radio determination satellite services (RDSS) in the Ku-band. EUTELSAT's growth in both types of services offered and volume of traffic has been rapid, with recent additions of East European membership as well. EUTELSAT expects to have a constellation of seven satellites in orbit from 1 to 36 degrees E by 1994. It also has ambitious plans for introduction of a EUROPESAT DBS for regular television and HDTV service by 1996.

EUTELSAT's growth, particularly in providing telephone services, was unexpected by many observers since domestic systems in the U.S. and in other countries have done so poorly in competition with terrestrial systems. The EUTELSAT TDMA system dedicated to voice grade service is expanding very quickly. The most recent additions for this TDMA service have been Iceland and Romania. These additions give some indication as to the appeal of this service, namely quick installation, flexibility of traffic streams and carriers, and, most significantly, avoidance of expensive transit charges.

The new EC policies deregulating ownership and access provisions for VSAT terminals have also served to double EUTELSAT's traffic volume related to business networks.

LEO Systems

European system operators and research organizations exhibit cautious interest in LEO and small satellites for communications, primarily through studies, including the Inmarsat Project 21 studies. A number of successful microsatellite (50 kg class) programs for communications have been conducted by University of Surrey and the related Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (UK), recent examples being the Korean satellite program, KITSAT, and the S80T program with Matra-Marconi for CNES. Considerable pioneering work by University of Surrey and others in Europe is related to work by American institutions and industry. A number of proposed systems are inherently international by virtue of the use of LEOs which potentially provide coverage for the entire earth. Further the Globalstar consortium headed by SS/Loral and Qualcomm has the support of several European aerospace corporations, in contrast to the Motorola IRIDIUM project which seems to be strongly opposed in many European quarters. To date most European aerospace firms seem curious about possible participation in American-defined systems. The strong support for terrestrial mobile systems, particularly GSM, seems to have muted European enthusiasm for LEO satellite systems. Reasons for opposition to most LEO systems, as expressed at ESA, Inmarsat, Eutelsat and various industrial units, were: (1) competition with their own planned (non-LEO) systems; (2) problems of radio frequency interference; (3) unrealistic technology; and (4) U.S. domination.

High Data Rate Communications

There was very little activity observed in Europe for HDR satellite communications for Europe. This seemed unusual considering the success of EUTELSAT in providing intra-European communications. Nevertheless, most planning efforts in Europe tend to assume that HDR communications, especially synchronous digital hierarchy of 155 Mbits/sec or faster will use fiber optic cable. Detailed questioning revealed limited knowledge or appreciation for the role that satellites could play in supercomputer networking, HDTV distribution, or in broadband ISDN (B-ISDN) networks. Staff members of ESA and EUTELSAT indicated that they are following the NASA ACTS experiments and would like, if possible, to participate with NASA and other U.S. organizations in developing HDR satellite networks. This clearly is one area of U.S. technological leadership.

Satellites vs. Fiber Optics

As became clear in many discussions in Europe, there is growing concern that satellite links will not be included in national and international B-ISDN networks. The EC is considering development of a European HDR terrestrial network for HD-MAC TV distribution at 155 Mbits/sec. There are no plans to use satellites in the network. No development work was observed in HDR satellite communications technology (e.g., modems, codecs, buffers and interface units), although EUTELSAT plans to test the 140 to 155 Mbits/sec satellite modem which was designed in the U.S. EUTELSAT and ESA would like to meet and work with NASA and U.S. carriers to develop satellite HDR transmission system standards and to engage in joint developments and tests. This is obviously an area where it is better for satellite system managers to cooperate in promoting the use of satellites to interconnect terrestrial fiber optic networks than to compete for shares in what might be a shrinking market for satellite services.

Opportunities for U.S.-European Cooperation

Given the flattening of civilian and military space programs in both the U.S. and Europe, there needs to be even more attention given to effective cooperative ventures across the Atlantic. NASA's budget for 1994-95 may well see an absolute cut in funding, while ESA, despite a five year program expansion with multiple scientific and applications missions, will likely see a flat budget. Given this budget situation, the key issues are to determine the space activities that promise the greatest return and to identify those cooperative programs that can achieve cost savings and clear-cut tangible benefits in reasonable time. This is not to suggest that other projects should not be pursued but that those projects which meet the above criteria should be given the highest priority. The current situation strongly suggests that both NASA and ESA should devote attention to the economic sectors which could produce the largest practical return, such as those with large existing or potential commercial markets (e.g., fixed and mobile communications, radio and television broadcasting, navigation, and earth observation). Under these terms of reference, one or more applications of satellite communications is the leading candidate.

ESA officials have stated that the agency would welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the U.S. in areas of advanced technology development. ESA would be most comfortable collaborating with NASA rather than a U.S. commercial firm. It was noted that, although there are many examples of cooperation between ESA and NASA in science and manned spaceflight (e.g., Hubble, Spacelab, Space Station) there has never been a cooperative effort in communications satellites.

ESA does cooperate with Japan and with a number of national space agencies (e.g., CNES and the Italian Space Agency) in satellite communications. Also, it has been approached by the Russian space agency to cooperate in large aperture antennas and GEO platforms. ESA has worked extensively with Inmarsat, but not much with INTELSAT. ESA officials plan to participate with Inmarsat in Project 21 and have expressed an interest in cooperating with INTELSAT in the future, possibly in areas such as on-board processing or HDR communications.

Several areas were discussed as being specifically attractive for ESA-NASA cooperation:

  1. HDR transmission system tests and demonstrations
  2. Development of very large aperture antennas, up to 30 meters, and large GEO platforms
  3. On-board processing
  4. Intersatellite links
  5. Highly mobile communications
  6. Ka-band propagation experiments, possibly on ACTS

Published: July 1993; WTEC Hyper-Librarian