The Global Satellite Communications Market

The primary mission of the panel was to review the field of satellite communications technology and systems on a global basis with a primary focus on Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States. It was not an explicit mission of the panel to review the current and projected future markets for satellite communications on a global basis. However, such an important area could not be simply ignored. This section attempts to place the results of the panel's global review of satellite communications into a perspective of emerging global markets over the next decade. In this regard one extremely vital conclusion is very clear. This is that while technology is indeed of great importance, the development and commercial exploitation of new applications is even more vital. In this respect Europe and especially Japan seem to be more adept at developing new applications. Today this can be seen in direct broadcast satellite services, and it is becoming apparent in mobile satellite services as well.

The future market for satellite communications is critical to understanding the future direction that technologies will take. Often new applications will stimulate new technical innovations, and in some cases -- for example, that of frequency congestion -- market needs become the "fundamental driver." It is quite obvious that the development of new satellite technologies should be consistent with market needs and opportunities.

A number of consulting firms have reviewed the overall field of telecommunications development and have prepared market forecasts. Others have prepared detailed market forecasts for just the field of satellite communications. Relevant market studies have been prepared by Frost and Sullivan; Booz, Allen and Hamilton; the Gartner Group; the Clarksburg Communications Center; and Satellite Systems Engineering. All of these studies show continuing growth in the satellite industry and particularly attractive growth potential in the new service areas.

The purpose of this study has been to assess communications satellite technologies on a comparative basis, and therefore only basic trends in the market are required to help "calibrate" the importance of new technologies. The study prepared for the National Engineering Consortium's Infovision Conference (November 1992) is one of the most recent and comprehensive reviews of the entire global satellite communications market. That study, which is summarized in the opening section of this chapter (Table 1.3), suggests that fixed satellite services will double in the next decade and data relay services will triple. It further projects that mobile and navigational satellite services as well as direct broadcast satellite services will achieve remarkable growth, perhaps even tenfold, by the early 21st century. If these market forecasts and others with similar projections prove to be accurate, then it will be ironic that the erosion of U.S. leadership in this field will occur just at the time that such rapid market growth magnifies its industrial importance.

Critical Success Factors

This panel's nearly year-long global summary of the field of satellite communications technology and systems has revealed that the U.S. domestic satellite communications industry and NASA programs are not well positioned for the future. A number of weaknesses, as well as a number of critical corrective measures for the future, emerge from the panel's review of U.S. and global practices in this field. This section sets forth the more important weaknesses observed as well as possible actions that could be taken to respond to these weaknesses.

Weaknesses. Weaknesses are often a relative perception rather than an absolute one. These U.S. weaknesses may be in relation to Japan, Europe, Russia or sometimes all three. No special attempt has been made to identify with respect to which countries these weaknesses exist, even though it is clearly with regard to Japan that the greatest gaps and shortcomings are likely to appear. Key identified weaknesses are as follows:

None of these problems or weaknesses by itself is overpowering or incapable of solution. Collectively, however, they spell major difficulties for the U.S. satellite communications industry and for NASA's relationships in supporting U.S. industry. The specific actions that might be undertaken to overcome these weaknesses and to try to restore the U.S. satellite communications industry to its former leadership position are really for others to say, particularly U.S. corporate leaders and responsible NASA officials. The panel does believe that certain critical success factors for the future do exist and it is important to at least share that information with all who read and review this report. The factors which seem particularly worthy of note are reported in the following section.

Success Factors. The most important way of solving most problems is to clearly understand the problems and their causes. Remedial actions come more easily once the basic or fundamental issues are clear. This section therefore notes several critical success factors that are associated with "basic issues" which are causing today's difficulties and that indicate potential success factors likely to provide effective answers.

Although many other critical success factors could have been identified, such as more focus on satellite communications within NASA headquarters and research centers, the above broad observations are indicative of the types of actions that could be taken to restore U.S. leadership in this field.

The panel's assessment is that the U.S. position in satellite communications technology is clearly slipping behind Japan and will also slip behind Europe within the next five to ten years unless action is taken to recognize the commercial and strategic importance of the world's most important space industry.

Published: July 1993; WTEC Hyper-Librarian