Satellites and Their Emerging Role in Commercial Ventures

Brad K. / Physics 336 / April 17,1997
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[ Teledesic Computer Satellites ] [ Problems with Teledesic ] [ Meteorological Use ]
[ The business of weather satellites ] [ Television Satellites ] [ Limitations of Satellite TV ]
[ Telephone Satellites ]
As satellites continue to become more effective and advanced, they are playing a major role in some very lucrative commercial ventures. In the ever emerging computer industry satellites are being used to speed up Internet access and increase the effectiveness of Internet use. Satellites also continue to play a major role in meteorology (the study of weather) and with new technologies such as Doppler radar satellites which enable people to prepare for natural disasters. The fast growing satellite television industry is a boom market which has proved to be a stable investment. Many telephone companies are receiving great amounts of revenue due to an increase in long distance subscribers, which is also a direct effect of improved communications satellites.

Teledesic Computer Satellites:

Satellites are helping further the computer industry through the advancement of a technology known as Teledesic. Teledesic will speed up the time it takes for a person to access the Internet from a personal computer and reduce delays in Internet use. How does this new technology work? Teledesic works on a system of broadband, that is, each satellite is devote solely to a small limited number of users. Also to increase effectiveness of the system the satellite is directly linked to the user's personal computer. This is a revolutionary service which has many computer companies and users dying to get a hold of it. When and if the service is fully operational it is sure to increase not only the speed of Internet access to the customer but also the bankroll of the company which is able to make Teledesic a reality on a global level.

Problems with Teledesic:

Despite the enthusiastic and overwhelming applause of critics over the basic idea which Teledesic represents, many experts are still very skeptical of its overall commercial potential. Experts agree that while Teledesic is an astonishing success on the local (small scale) level it may be hard to translate this regional success into a global one. Most cite the fact that at the present time there simply aren't enough satellites to ensure use by such a limited number of users, and even if the satellites were built the cost of the Teledesic service would balloon so high that the system would not be a profitable business venture. However, the idea for Teledesic certainly is an intriguing and ultimately profitable one, said one industry expert "All the pieces needed for the system to be a total winner aren't in place right now, but when and if they are someone is going to make a lot of money off this".

Meteorological Use:

Recently, the weather forecasting industry has benefited from the increased modernization of weather satellites. The results of this new modernizing effort have been increasingly more powerful and accurate satellites. Meteorologists attribute this speed in prediction and accuracy of those predictions to two main factors: more powerful computer models and new Doppler radars. Computer models use mathematical representations of the atmosphere to analyze current conditions and from that analysis determine what will happen to the weather in a given area. The difference today is that computer models are 20 times faster then they were ten years ago and they can predict what will happen up to 30 seconds after a current reading. The new Doppler radars are perhaps the most effective tool that has been offered to local forecasters since the first weather satellites were launched in the 1960's. As a result of the new Doppler technology, warnings are issued sooner, more lives are saved and because of up to the minute forecasts there are fewer false alarms. "By generating warnings faster we'll save more lives", said meteorologist Steve Todd, "Every minute you save is a minute you lose, it translates into lives and property."

The Business of Weather Satellites:

Although it is true that weather satellites are around to prevent disasters and save lives, it is also true that there is money to be made from predicting the weather. At the forefront of financing the technology of weather satellites are television networks. Recently the big three of the TV industry, ABC, CBS, and NBC have started what amounts to a race to acquire the most technologically advanced weather satellites on the market. This is no accident that the networks want the best weather technology to attract viewership, especially in times of crisis, and with increased viewership there is increased sponsorship which translates into big money for the networks. This is just another striking example of how satellites are increasingly involved in commercial ventures.

Television Satellites:

The television satellite that started as a small experimental venture has recently hit a boom and looks to be one of the foremost areas of the communications business in the 21st century. The leader of this fledgling industry is DirectTV, a satellite television company which can currently boast 1.2 million subscribers. Recently however, AT&T entered into a partnership with DirectTV, and this move is sure to bolster DirectTv's credibility as an investment and will enable it to challenge the regional cable industry for control of the nation's air waves. AT&T's entrance into the satellite TV market not only spells trouble for regional cable operators but more importantly will stimulate the television satellite industry by pouring more money into developing the new technology. An example of this is that almost immediately after AT&T struck a partnership with DirectTV, MCI announced its own foray into this emerging market. "AT&T's entrance is going to make this industry fly a lot faster than it would have otherwise" said John Aronshon, a senior analyst at a telecommunications company in Boston. Whatever the outcome of AT&T's investment it is sure to add life and respectability to a growing industry that may change the way we watch TV in the future.

Limitations of Satellite TV:

However, problems do exist with satellite TV which place it at a disadvantage to established cable companies. For one thing the new technology is significantly more expensive than subscribing to the local cable provider. Although this may prevent people from immediately embracing the system, experts are quick to point out that new technologies, although often very expensive at first, generally decrease in price as more imitators and competitors enter a given field. A more important problem is that for the time being at least the satellite TV operators can not broadcast local stations. Certainly these are problems which the industry will have to solve before it can dominate the television market but most experts are confident that the industry will work out its glitches and before long will replace cable as the premium television provider.

Telephone Satellites:

The telephonic satellite industry began in the early 1960's with the creation of Telestar 1, a communications satellite that could transmit 60 conversations at a time. When Syncom 2, a second communications satellite was able to achieve geosynchronous orbit, telephone companies realized that they could now market long distance telephone calls at a substantially cheaper rate than they previously could. Soon in an attempt to gain customers, phone companies began slashing long distance rates and this practice continues to the present day. These satellites not only allow for quick connections on long distance phone calls they also allow people in remote areas to communicate. Financially these satellites bring in millions of dollars to phone companies each year in the form of rates paid by long distance subscribers.


Satellites today are playing a very important role in many lucrative commercial ventures. Not only are these satellites revolutionizing the way we the computer, watch TV or make a phone call but they are also pouring millions of dollars in revenue into companies eager to embrace this new technology. It is evident that satellites will continue to play a major role in the worldwide commercial economy well into the 21st century.



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