Technology & Innovation

Satellite Communications: Connecting billions


25 Jan 2022

We’ve all heard the word “satellite” many times while ging up, but do we actually know what it is and how important it is in today’s interconnected digital world?
Let’s refresh our clogged memories. A satellite could be a moon, a planet like Earth that orbits the sun, or a machine launched into space to orbit a planet or a star, hence, the name artificial satellite.
Since Russia’s Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, was launched in 1957, nearly 9,000 more man made satellites from more than 40 countries have been launched into outer space. Of these, about 5,000 remain in orbit and the rest have become space debris, eternally floating in the galaxy until swept away by speeding meteoroids that turn into meteors upon landing on Earth.
Some of those still in operation take pictures of the Earth to help meteorologists predict weather and track hurricanes, thus saving millions who could potentially face a natural disaster. Some take photos of other planets, the sun, black holes, dark matter or faraway galaxies, which NASA says primarily to help “scientists better understand the solar system and the universe”.
These satellites are further divided into two common uses—military and civilian—the latter include Earth observation satellites, communications satellites, navigation satellites, weather satellites, and space telescopes.

Let’s narrow down this topic to communication satellites. These are the ones that provide telecommunications, broadcasting and data communications.

In today’s digital world, communication satellites have become more relevant. Why? Because before satellites were invented, TV signals didn’t go too far and our phone signals can’t travel the distance between continents.
But since satellites fly above the clouds, they can send the TV or phone signals back down to different locations on Earth without interference from mountains, tall buildings or other objects that can distract the signals.
So, imagine if there were no satellites. Your call from Dubai to your loved ones to say the US, Canada, India or just any other country in the Middle East would take ages. Watching your favourite films on Netflix would be constantly interrupted without the satellites. Communicating via emails would be like sending a regular mail that needs days to reach its intended recipients. And the list of annoying scenarios goes on.
Satellite communications are truly a marvellous invention that needs a little more recognition than we’re giving it. This is the only man-made satellite that directly touches the lives of every human being on the planet and the only truly commercial space technology that generates billions of dollars annually in sales of products and services.
e& ( formerly called Etisalat Group) which powers up the telecommunication needs of millions of people across more than 16 countries, takes pride in investing on powerful satellites that extend its reach nationally, regionally and globally.
With its carefully managed VSAT services with multiple VSAT Earth stations, e&’s satellite coverage is spanned across the globe over different bands and broadcast hubs.
Customers and subscribers can always count on Etisalat UAE’s (telecom pillar of e&) antenna and telecom infrastructure hosting, space segment, multiple encryption options and telecom services, including internet, connectivity and voice services, with the highest quality.
In a 1954 speech, John R. Pierce of AT&T's Bell Telephone Laboratories compared the communications capacity of a satellite, which he estimated at 1,000 simultaneous telephone calls, and the communications capacity of the first Trans-Atlantic telephone cable (TAT-1), which could carry 36 simultaneous telephone calls at a cost of $ 30-50 million. Pierce wondered at that time if a satellite would be worth a billion dollars. It did and much more.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, new technologies have been incorporated into satellite communications, providing better infrastructure for the global telecommunication industry. From geosynchronous (GEO) satellite technology, the satellite communication market is now expected to shift towards Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology which is seen to address the great digital divide in the world.
LEO satellites are believed to provide global coverage and low latency broadband connectivity compared to building expensive physical infrastructure like laying fibre optic cables.

The pandemic has pushed the acceleration of  digitalisation but it also highlighted the wide disparity between those with access to the internet and those who have not.

The International Telecommunication Union reported that while the internet penetration in the developed world runs at over 87%, the rate is just 47% in developing countries and only 19% in the least developed countries.

At a time when most things are done digitally, business or personal, including educating the future generation, reliable connectivity is a must.
At the 2020 G20 Riyadh Summit, countries agreed to draw a universal connectivity plan by 2030 and ensure digital inclusion for all. And that certainly needs the power of communications satellites.