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BT heralds satellite breakthrough

Capacity tripled, claims telco

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British Telecom has announced that it has developed a satellite modulation technology that can use existing satellites and triple their existing capacity. If this is a genuine breakthrough, it could improve satellite competitiveness globally overnight.

The claim, made in a BT press statement, says: "The new modulation scheme draws on similar principles to those used in the signal transmitted by GSM phones, which delivers data over a modulation scheme consisting of two states. This new method uses multiple states, combined with partial response signaling. Its innovation lies in the design of the detection mechanism in the demodulator, which is based on symbol pattern recognition."

Virtually every major global satellite owning group has changed hands in the past 12 months, owing to the high price of satellite capacity versus the falling cost of terrestrial 'wired' bandwidth, which has crashed over the past four years.

But if a satellite is valued by the cash it can generate and that in turn is dictated by the bandwidth that it can transmit, then all of those deals will be extremely lucrative if a technology like this comes along because it will effectively triple the value of the satellite in the sky. Key will be the price at which ground stations can be made which harness this new technology.

Although the BT press release talks about the market for satellite being in the process of doubling, the reality is that no satellite builder expects any new orders to be placed in the next five years, with there being sufficient satellite capacity already in the sky to carry out the jobs that just must have satellite (like TV distribution across a nationwide footprint). The only thing that could stimulate the technology is a breakthrough of this type, although initially it would yet again, drop the need for new satellites because it would triple the capacity what's already there.

Further development of the technology for delivering data to 'small dish' services, such as home-based satellite TV is under consideration. Once this technology hits Direct to Home satellite TV distribution, the economics of delivering TV via satellite, rather than via cable, become even more compelling.

The system has been designed for use over large-scale satellite links operating from earth stations, which typically carry high bandwidth data. These include ISP backbone connections, satellite newsgathering, video links and corporate use, military satellite communications and international trunk traffic being transmitted across continents.

Copyright © 2004, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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