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Communications Week magazine, 950807
PANAMSAT sights on covering the globe
The Indian Ocean region was to get a much-needed boost in international
satellite communications capacity last week, as Pan American Satellite
Corp. was due to launch its 40-transponder PAS-4 spacecraft. As of the
middle of last week, the satellite's launch had been postponed till
3 August, after press time.
Depending on that outcome PanAmSat was to become the first private satellite
operator to complete a global system.
PAS-1 is to be used for data networking and digital TV distribution,
blanketing an area from London to Cape Town to Perth to Tokyo. PanAmSat
president Fred Landman said in an interview late last month that he expects
the satellite to have the most impact in India and Africa, where customers
will introduce high-power international Ku-band services.
About a half dozen other satellite systems have footprints that serve
parts of the Indian Ocean region, but pending PAS4's successful launch only
Intelsat covered the entire area. But none of Intelsat's three satellites
in the region offers highpower Ku-band transponders. The PAS4 has 24 Ku-band
transponders with 60 watts of power each and 16 C-band transponders with 30
watts each. The C-band transponders are well-suited for broadcasters, while
data networking users prefer Ku-band capacity, with its smaller dishes.
PanAmSat signed more than $500 million-worth of user contracts for PAS-4
prior to launch. The company does not publish its circuit prices. Among PAS-
4's 10 broadcasting customers are China Central Television, sports network
ESPN, Sony Corp. and Walt Disney Co.
Transtel, a unit of the Transnet Group, of Johannesburg, South Africa, has
leased two PAS4 transponders for 15 years for a data network to connect
stateowned Transnet's transport companies using VSAT dishes.
According to plan, the Transtel network would have 300 VSATs within 24
months, enabling it to put the national railways in constant communication
for the first time, said business development manager Thero Setiloane. Other
state-owned transport sectors, such as airline and shipping container, will
be put on the VSAT network later.
"With Intelsat, the power levels were too low," according to Setiloane.
"With the size of the antenna required, it was an unenviable proposition for
us. It wasn't attractive at all. PanAmSat's higher power makes it a more
In South Africa, where Telkom has a monopoly on telecoms services,
Transtel can provide only closed user group communications. But given that
its Ku-band transponder would cover southern Africa and the C-band
transponder would cover the whole continent, Transtel is
talking with other African telecoms administrations about sharing the
capacity, Setiloane said.
Already, the plans include serving railways throughout the area. In many
of the countries to be served, there is less than one telephone for every
100 persons and business telecommunications services are scarce.
Simon Bennett, president of Alexandria, Virginia-based Bennett Consultancy
and a former Intelsat manager, recommends that groups such as the African
Development Bank and the Regional African Satellite Communications
Organization (Rascom) put up their own satellite dishes rather than use
Intelsat's coverage of Africa is good but limited to C-band, notes
Bennett, who has worked with several African organizations on their
communications problems. Intelsat plans to launch a more advanced Intelsat 8
over the region in 1998, when Rascom will get its own spot beam.
The organization plans to aggregate its requirements on leased
transponders and resell the capacity on a wholesale basis. In India,
PanAmSat hopes to provide direct-to-home digital TV services using Ku-band
capacity by late next year.
PAS-4 was built by Hughes Aircraft Co. and was to be launched by
Arianespace SA on an Ariane 4 rocket. In December 1994, PanAmSat's second
satellite for the Atlantic Ocean region, PAS3, was destroyed by a third-
stage failure on its Ariane rocket shortly after launch. The company has
ordered a replacement, which is scheduled for launch in December.
Roger Wiesenbach [log in to unmask]