Satellite comms may 'connect the unconnected'

The UN has called on governments and the private sector to join it in exploiting satellite communications to bridge the digital divide

The UN agency for information and communications issues is looking to the heavens to bridge the digital divide.

Dr Hamadoun Touré, the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU's) secretary-general, said satellite communications technology can play a vital role in connecting remote and isolated communities around the world.

"Satellite communication systems have a huge potential to offer, promising high-capacity transmission capabilities over wide areas," Touré said in a statement.

Touré called for businesses to play their part in ensuring this technology delivers on its potential.

He said: "The role of the space industry is very important in meeting our connectivity access targets [such as the 2015 Millennium Development Goals] and to contribute to the well-being of the world's population. We need to form a global coalition, to put together our resources and efforts within a framework of international co-operation and collaboration, to bridge the digital divide."

Satellite technology has been in the spotlight recently following reports that Nasa is developing a satellite-based system to put a mobile-phone network on the moon.

But it is more usually used here on Earth. For instance, charity organisation Télécoms Sans Frontières uses satellites to provide phone calls, broadband access and other connectivity to people in regions stricken by disasters. And satellite communications company Inmarsat has a commercial satellite mobile-phone offering for travellers to remote regions, which currently covers Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It is aiming to make this a worldwide service.

When it comes to the global digital divide, the ITU hopes satellite communications will play a vital role in "connecting the unconnected" — and Touré called for partnerships between UN organisations, governments and the private sector to drive this vision forward.

He said: "I would invite you to join the ITU in connecting the unconnected by 2012 and to work together with us to ensure that the role and promise of satellite communications are not neglected in telecommunication investment plans for Africa and elsewhere around the globe."

The ITU will work to build momentum behind satellite communications by ensuring the right policy and regulatory frameworks are in place to attract infrastructure investment. Its initial focus will be on Africa, said Touré, but its ultimate aim is to enable hi-tech communications to reach any region in the world not currently wired for sound.