Satellite broadband a viable option

Fiber broadband plans, DSL bonding and LTE may be grabbing all the headlines in the broadband access space, but satellite broadband access is not only still a viable and growing business but also a serious revenue generator, according to satellite research firm NSR.

New figures from NSR released last month project that global broadband satellite revenues will grow almost 15% annually over the next decade, reaching $9 billion (€6.2 billion) by 2020.

And while that figure includes both satellite broadband internet access and VSAT networking to enterprises, the former category will account for the majority of the revenue, says NSR senior analyst and report author Patrick French.

"Satellite broadband access services will be over a $5.1 billion industry by 2020," said French. "This is a fourfold revenue increase compared to 2010 and illustrates why so many companies are making major plays into this arena."

Satellite broadband has paid off for companies like Thaicom's IPStar service, which recently reported a 38% annual revenue increase for its bandwidth service in 2010 and a 21.3% increase for its internet and media businesses.

However, said French, satellite broadband access still faces the chief challenge of "remaking the general public perception of satellite being a 'fast resort' service and offering a product that compares favorably to ADSL services in many unserved or underserved markets."

Satellite broadband players are hoping to alter that perception with the launch of next-generation high throughput Satellites (HTS) set to enter commercial service this year, he said.

The most recent example is Eutelsat's KA-SAT, a Ka-band satellite launched last December that packs 70 Gbps of capacity and will start commercial services later this year. Eutelsat has already signed deals with French ISP Sat2Way and the UK's Avonline to sell KA-SAT's "TooWay" services in their respective markets with promised downlink speeds of 10 Mbps and uplink speed of 4 Mbps.

ViaSat aims to launch its own HTS bird (ViaSat-1) for North America in the middle of this year, with a total capacity of 130 Gbps.

A key feature of next-gen HTS is lower bandwidth costs, achieved partly by using Ka-band spot beams with more efficient frequency reuse, and partly by the sheer amount of bandwidth provided. ViaSat claims that ViaSat-1's cost-per-GB will be a fraction of current Ka-band bandwidth costs.

Meanwhile, the VSAT broadband market has emerged from the 2009 global economic recession in reasonably good shape and chalked up solid growth in its installed base, especially in the last quarter or two of 2010, says NSR. As economic conditions improve - which in turn should strengthen capital spending from enterprises and governments - and as more satellite capacity becomes available in key markets, the sector should see a peak in VSAT deployments from now to 2013.

"The VSAT industry could see its installed and operational base increase by over 750,000 sites in the coming ten years," said French.

In India the banking sector is being touted by satellite broadband operator Hughes Communications India as hot growth area for VSAT data services. Hughes - which already has 75,000 VSAT sites in the country - plans to deploy another 15,000 sites for banks in 2011 and 2012, and expects to see 25-30% revenue growth from the sector in the next three to five years, according to a report from PTI (Press Trust of India) in April.