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Skylogic (www.skylogic.com) is one of my favorite corporate names. It combines the dreamy, poetic quality of the skies above us, with the grace and grounded quality of that most splendidly vital “output” of the human species: logic.
Skylogic is the broadband subsidiary of Eutelsat, the earth’s third largest satellite operator. Paris-based Eutelsat, through its subsidiary, has 27 satellites orbiting overhead and earns $1.48 in revenues. Today it grasps the potential of using satellites to cure the multi-pronged issues poking at a scab we call “the digital divide.” It believes it has a business model that will address the issue. However as its Director of Strategy Yohann Leroy notes, “The digital divide is not exclusive to the developing world. In our view it exists within mature economies as well as those considered underdeveloped.” This is a point that is often overlooked. But it is a fact. There are large underserved communities throughout North America and Europe. 15 million homes in North America, for example. More in Europe. Fiber does not do the job and, as result, the communities suffer.
This is being addressed, or will be in time. By 2014 nearly US$5B in assets will have been invested to provide a new technology into the sky in order to reach the underserved cost-effectively. Eutelsat was the first in Europe to make this gamble. It launched a new type of satellite with something called a Ka-band capacity. The satellite, appropriately, is called KA-SAT. Not as romantic as Skylogic, but it does not matter. While other satellites have Ka-band capacity in varying degrees, and a Canadian satellite (Anik) is the pioneer in this field, with some service over North America, KA-SAT is the first of what is expected to be several high-throughput satellites offering broadband service to consumers and businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
I won’t bore you with the technical explanations of why this satellite and its Ka-band is different. Leave it to say that for the first time satellites will be able to provide something which ViaSat CEO, Mark Dankberg, whose company is preparing a $400 million satellite for launch in the American market next month, calls “DSL in the sky.” In short, with these new satellites broadband is slowly but surely going to be available everywhere. As ICF has said, the key to building a global movement of intelligent communities is to ensure that the “Middle of Nowhere” is soon to be no more. Ka-band is another step.
As many of you know, ICF was founded by the three of us under the auspices of a satellite industry trade association. However, the industry does not get the credit it deserves for transforming the human community and experience.
Fifty-four years after the launch of Sputnik, which symbolically ushered in the “flat world” of hyper communications that we know today, the satellite industry, dominated by engineers and the financial sector has lost its romance. Strong cashflow and balance sheets on the part of satellite operators has taken the edge from this incredible industry. Satellites are Google in orbit, but nobody gets that right now. But satellites play a role in everything we do. The industry has reached more of its potential than anyone ever imagined. Cable TV and the cellular industry, along with the Internet, cannot not function without satellites. Airplanes, the environmental sciences and the ability to harvest the earth would be mysteries on drawing board were it not for these spindly, orbiting “birds.” Missions like Polarsat, which observe the polar ice caps in order to measure global warming trends, are unthinkable by fiber. Today, over half of America’s farmers whose lands are valued at over US$250,000 use the Internet to guide their business and distribute resources. Many of these applications are on tractors and machines in the fields. Guess where they get their data? Right. I am just scratching the service.
However, the industry has become like the airlines. It may be so seamlessly efficient that it is forgotten. It is, please forgive me, boring to most. I am not writing to damn the industry. Quite the opposite. I love it. But it is in need of a facelift. It has been able to escape the acidic, but honest observation of Warren Buffett, who quipped, “Build your company to be idiot-proof, because someday an idiot will run it.” There are no idiots putting satellites into space. Honorable people run things in this industry, but perhaps too much logic has clouded the sky.
Let me clear the skies when it comes to satellites: the Intelligent Community movement sees Ka-band as important. Because of its ability to deliver larger chunks of capacity and bandwidth anywhere, and cheaply, it is a key which unlocks a new era for many struggling communities. In the not too distant future Ka-band satellites and service may enable communities that have never before been able to approach intelligent Community status to do so. They provide capacity and access. Access is the key. As we know from ICF’s first indicator, the availability of broadband makes many things possible.
Possibilities for a community is the logic of the sky.