Connecting from the skies

Shoji Koike from Inmarsat Enterprise tells us how satellite technology isn’t that different from the terrestrial technologies we’re using for television and calls.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Shoji Koike from Inmarsat Enterprise tells us how satellite technology isn’t that different from the terrestrial technologies we’re using for television and calls. 
My Reading Room
Can you get the same content from satellite as we do on cable? The general consumer doesn’t know what we can get on satellite. 

That’s a great question, because from a consumer’s point of view you might think we can deliver the same level of throughput as what you can get on the ground. We cannot at the moment, because there is a limit to the capacity. Even with cellular there is a limit, but because people are sharing a much broader pipe it tends to be higher and you can always build more cellular towers. For satellite, these limits are set when we launch the satellite. 

It sounds like it’s very suited for the Internet of Everywhere. What needs to happen for us to get connected in every corner of the globe? 

The Internet of Everywhere in our terms already exists; we just need the eco-system to follow. A number of users are starting to realize that not every corner of the globe is covered by cellular, and that all the data their sensors are collecting is mission critical, so they’re coming to us for ways to deliver. 

It’s not just about codecs, but also apps and thinking. For instance, you might think that a security company would want 24/7 video surveillance of an area they monitor, but rather they probably only need high resolution video every time there is motion, so they really just need a motion sensor rather than a continuous connection. It’s just about ensuring that our limited pipe is used in an intelligent way. 

When will it become affordable for regular consumers? 

Pricing has come down a lot to the point where it’s certainly affordable already. Our own BGAN ISAT Hub costs US$1500 and somewhere around US$3 per megabyte for use. From a consumer level, that’s affordable. If you have extra bucks, you can even check your stocks on it. A minute of satellite telephone time doesn’t cost you more than US$1.50, so it’s actually more affordable than cellular calls on roaming.

What’s not so clear to consumers is also how we get charged. I imagine with satellite it’s just a flat fee, no matter where you are in the world? 

Exactly. The beauty of satellite is that it is just one cost depending on what your provider offers. Depending on the region you’re based in, charges may vary due to different promotions, but there are no roaming charges and the cost of use is the same wherever you are in the world. But that’s a good question, because it’s this perception that puts a lot of people off. 

In fact, our BGAN network is actually no different to the 3G networks - it’s like a 3G network in the sky. The system itself in terms of technology is exactly the same as 3G. It’s an IP network so when you get charged, it’s the same concept where you’re charged by the volume of data consumed. Launching a satellite literally is rocket science, but the whole architecture; not so much. I bet we have even simpler pricing structures than the cellular players!