Singapore - Businesses in Asia are increasingly banking on satellite communications and mobile data and voice services to expand their operations to tap into hitherto hard-to-reach markets like China.
Lack of telecommunications infrastructure, sometimes erratic power supplies and extreme temperatures that can damage terrestrial lines are some of the major challenges to establishing business operations in areas such as the remote provinces of China or North Korea.
Said Michael Storey, Inmarsat CEO: "Businesses operating in China can benefit from using mobile satellite communication services... to network their offices for both voice and data communication. Regional and remote country offices can keep in touch with company headquarters, suppliers, and the World Wide Web using voice telephone, fax, e-mail, remote LAN or file transfer."
For instance, China Transportation & Telecom Center is using the Inmarsat Global Area Network (GAN) World Communicator to enable their staff working in Xinjiang - a remote part of Western China - to stay in touch with its Beijing headquarters.
Inmarsat's mobile ISDN GAN service allows a corporate LAN or WAN to be extended beyond the geographic limitations of terrestrial telecommunications, and is delivered via Inmarsat's network of nine satellites positioned in geostationary orbit at about 36,000km above the Equator.
It also supports other communications solutions such as e-mail, e-commerce, Intranet access, image transfer and store-and-forward video services. This is a far cry from the typical stand-alone notebook operations many global businesses have to endure when operating in China or North Korea.
“Our satellite traffic levels in the Pacific region, which includes Australasia, most of China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, have increased by approximately 14% in the last 12 months. This region now represents approximately 19% of our total global traffic level,” said Storey.
GAN was specifically designed to address the increasing need for higher bandwidth, mobile data communications from multinational corporations and organizations. It allows businesses to access, send and receive high-quality bandwidth-intensive data and other information from almost anywhere in the world at speeds og up to 64kbps.
Access to GAN is available to the end-user via portable mobile satcom units weighing about 4kg each.
In the air
What about jetsetters? Trans-oceanic passengers, besides making phone calls from their seats, can soon enjoy 'live' television in-flight to keep abreast of what's happening around the world.
The new in-flight entertainment service, being developed by Airia Limited, will allow airlines to offer two channels of ‘live’ television covering news and sports.
Inmarsat already provides voice and data services to many of the world’s airlines. Planned new services for airlines include support for e-mail and Internet access for passengers.
Airia, an Inmarsat joint venture, plans to make available by the end of 2001 a BBC Worldwide international news channel with content relevant to the region in which the aircraft is airborne and AIRIA Sports, a ‘live’ sports channel being designed by Trans World International.
Airlines in Asia are among the leaders investing in new inflight entertainment systems. These include Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines, both of which aim to have inflight e-mail and Internet access available in Q1 of 2001. Another is Virgin Atlantic, one of the first to enable passengers to receive mobile calls from their seat phones.
The Airia joint venture is expected to enable airlines to receive ‘live’ television feeds direct to the cabin using Inmarsat’s existing network of satellites. As of September 2000, Inmarsat served over 75% of modern wide-bodied aircraft with safety and passenger voice communications, and the new service will utilize existing hardware already fitted in these aircraft.
Otherwise, fitting new inflight entertainment systems can be expensive and time-consuming, requiring aircraft to remain grounded throughout the process.
Said Mike Stevens, chairman and CEO of Airia Limited: “By utilizing the existing reliable Inmarsat sitcoms antennae already onboard many international aircraft, we believe we have a practicable TV service for passengers and airlines alike.”
Programs will be individually tailored to meet the requirements of individual airlines, allowing the possibility of customized programming and advertising on specific routes.
In the pipeline
Soon, however, 64kbps access will prove too slow for sophisticated users and businesses around the world.
Which is probably why Inmarsat is planning to introduce its Broadband Global Area Network (B-GAN) service in 2004 to provide data rates of up to 432kbps to most of the world’s populated areas.
Before that, however, Inmarsat plans to offer services of up to 144kbps in the Middle-East, non-Scandinavian Europe, Northern Africa and the Indian sub-continent in 2002.