War sparks satellite service demand
Need for bandwidth could grow during rebuilding phase
- By Gail Repsher Emery
- Apr 03, 2003
The government knows "how much [bandwidth] it is going to need, not when or where, so you have to have the world covered," said David Helfgott, president and chief executive officer of Americom Government Services Inc.
Providers of commercial satellite capacity and satellite services are seeing a surge in business because of the war in Iraq.
"Almost across the board, there's been an increase in business. People who have satellite capacity there are very busy, as are mobile satellite operators. What drives demand is a bunch of people on the ground wanting communications" from the military to the media, said Richard DalBello, president of the Satellite Industry Association in Washington.
The government needs commercial satellite capacity when using fiber communications is impractical or impossible. Also, the military sometimes operates in remote areas not served by fiber or cellular service, making satellite communication vital for everything from remote guidance of weapons to communication with families back home.
A spokeswoman for the Defense Information Systems Agency confirmed the Defense Department's accelerating demand for commercial satellite capacity, saying that only about half the department's satellite needs are met by its own satellites.
"With the huge advancements in technology since the Gulf War, the demand for bandwidth has driven the department to use a larger amount of commercial satellite capacity to fill its requirements," the spokeswoman said.
To make up the difference, DISA leased more than three gigahertz of bandwidth to support the war on terrorism, a more than 650 percent increase over the 1991 Desert Storm conflict. This bandwidth is used for voice, data, video and video teleconferencing, she said.
"A lot of the technology and applications being deployed require constant connectivity and lots of bandwidth: unmanned aerial vehicles, video conferencing," said David Helfgott, president and chief executive officer of Americom Government Services Inc. in Princeton, N.J. "What satellite does best is broadband, rapidly deployed. It can be there a long time, or it can be shut down quickly. If you are putting your signal down into a large spot on the map, you can move your assets around and still get the same service."
AGS is a wholly owned subsidiary of SES Americom. Its parent company's global network of 41 satellites enables AGS to respond quickly to new government requirements, and its business is growing 15 percent or more each year, Helfgott said. SES Americom will launch its 42nd satellite April 9.
The government knows "how much [bandwidth] it is going to need, not when or where, so you have to have the world covered," Helfgott said.
Industry officials said bandwidth is needed for secure video conferencing for commanders in the field and for video conferencing between soldiers and their families at home. The military also uses it for battlefield communications, telemedicine, moving and tracking supplies, and the remote control of weapons, such as unmanned aerial vehicles.
Most mission-critical communications are conducted via the military's own infrastructure, while other communications, such as soldier-family video conferencing and logistics communications, are handled by commercial satellite firms.
"Bombers communicating with ground stations, that's probably not us," said Mac Jeffery, spokesman for satellite phone firm Globalstar LP of San Jose, Calif. "The military wants that under their control. But that's the tip of the iceberg in communications. There is a tremendous need for bandwidth in logistics, to make sure that food and fuel are delivered, managing enormous armies of trucks behind the lines."
Integral Systems Inc. is seeing an increase in its government business as well. Demand is up for the Lanham, Md., systems integrator's commercial satellite command and control software package.
The EPOCH 2000 software allows customers to build systems more quickly and control more satellites using the same software, said Don Mack, vice president of Integral's integration and test data systems division.
"Typically, the military will wait years for a custom service to be built. EPOCH can shorten the time by 10 percent to 30 percent. We are seeing more orders, more opportunity on [the government] side of the business," Mack said.
Last year, the company won a 10-year Air Force contract worth up to $118 million to produce a modern command and control infrastructure for the military's fleet of communications satellites.
To take advantage of the government's increasing need for satellite capacity, global satellite communications operator PanAmSat Corp. of Wilton, Conn., last month launched a government unit.
"We've steadily been chipping away at playing a bigger role in the government arena, and realized we needed to make an additional investment to be more productive in that marketplace," said Tom Eaton, executive vice president for global sales and marketing of the new G2 Satellite Solutions Co.
The company will provide access to satellites for voice, data and video communications, including mobile services for applications that include command and control and combat search and rescue. It should have about $60 million in revenue this year, he said.
DalBello said he expects demand to subside once the war in Iraq is over. But Jeffery said he expects the real surge in demand for Globalstar's satellite phones to come after the conflict.
Globalstar, which has about 80,000 subscribers, also has had a recent uptick in business. About 500 phones were sold under a single contract before the war started.
"It's almost 1 percent [of business] -- in a matter of weeks," Jeffery said. Air time use jumped 20 to 30 percent in the Middle East before the conflict even began, he said.
"[But] where we really expect it to take off is not now, but after the shooting stops," he said. Jeffery's intuition comes from the company's experience in Afghanistan. Globalstar saw a slight increase in business during the recent conflict there; afterward, business surged as military personnel and relief workers poured into the country to offer humanitarian assistance and rebuild the nation.
"In Afghanistan, we had scarcely any business at all, and then it went up thousands of percent," he said. "It stands to reason that's probably going to happen again in Iraq, particularly if ground infrastructure is damaged or destroyed." *
Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at email@example.com.