Eyes to the Skies: New Satellite Tech

Eyes to the Skies: New Satellite Tech
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When the pile of techie trade magazines from adjacent industries starts to tip over, it’s time to plow through them — like the stack of issues of Via Satellite, a monthly tech staple for the space-minded.

If you’re like me, you think “satellite” and quickly veer to “vs. fiber, it’s toast.” All over the nation, headends once bejeweled with 12-meter dishes are being retrofitted with fiber-optic cables that web out to regional fiber rings, national backbones and the general Borg of IP and the “big Internet.”

It turns out that the satellite sector is hardly a candidate for “bring out your dead,” however. Not only is it dripping with tech-talk, it’s also just as broadband-buoyant as anything else in telecommunications. As writer Max Engel puts it in the October issue of Via Satellite: “We’re finally seeing satellite broadband technology live up to its initial, late 1990s hype.”

The big hangup for satellites and broadband, obviously, is that niggling lack of a return path between Earth-based screens (TVs, tablets, PCs) and geosynchronous orbit. But over-the-top video is still video, Engel argues, and satellites remain the most efficient option for one-to-many broadcasting. What that means: Watch for EchoStar and others to add broadcasts of OTT video into their lineups.

Also big in the satellite world: equipping commercial airplanes for Wi-Fi. Lufthansa already flies 66 Wi- Fi planes; Southwest Airlines will outfi t 90% of its fleet by 2014. Trends so far: Lufthansa’s highest usage is on its Munich-San Francisco flight, with 50 simultaneous users. Southwest regularly sees as many as 80 simultaneous users. (That from the October issue’s “Debate: Ku or Ka Band for In-Air Broadband.”)

This was a new one on me: “EO,” for “Earth Observations,” and companion acronym “GEOINT,” short for “geospatial intelligence.” It’s all about the commercial data marketplace for satellite imagery, which is growing at 23% annually. And it’s not just for scientists and spies anymore: EO techniques are already being applied to help mobile carriers choose sites for cell towers, as one of dozens of examples.

Lastly: The skies are getting crowded with camera- bearing satellites. According to recent research by Euroconsult, as reported in the September issue of Via Satellite, some 298 EO satellites from 43 countries are expected to launch between now and 2020 — up from 140 satellites launched for EO between 2001 and 2010.

In closing, and as my space-minded friends are prone to say: Heads up, lights down!

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at translation-please.com or multichannel.com/blog.