How many communication satellites do we need?

Satellites are the mainstay of communication around the world, whether for voice calls, short message service, Internet and live television programmes of events at another faraway locale in the world. However, with the advent of dense networks of fibre optic cables linking different parts of the world together, the relevance of satellites for facilitating transfer of information and communication should be examined. In my opinion, there may be an excess of geostationary communication satellites around the world. More specifically, Africa may be the only continent that would need more geostationary satellites to be placed close to their locale, due primarily to the poor penetration of fibre optic cables in many parts of the impoverished continent.


Fibre optic cables carry the bulk of most analog and digital communications around the world at the moment, and there should be less reliance on geostationary satellites for transferring communications and information now. In particular, geostationary satellites, stationed at 36000 km away from Earth, are stationary with respect to a point on land, and serve as communication endpoints or relay stations for long distance analog and digital communications. However, with dense fibre optic cables linking different countries within and between continents, as well as within the same country such as Singapore, geostationary satellites may have lost their relevance in relaying real-time communications, such as live football matches, between two different hemispheres of Earth. In fact, the same communication content may be relayed more cheaply, and at higher fidelity, through oceanic and on land fibre optic cables compared to expensive geostationary satellites communication.


What is most common now may be a mix between fibre optic cable transmissions and satellite relay. Specifically, in areas without fibre optic cable connection, satellite relay may be the only method for delivering live real-time content such as the Olympic Games action to households. This is likely to be the predominant mode of communications in many parts of Africa. However, as Africa continues to develop, and more miles of fibre optic cable are laid, less use would be devoted to the expensive and hard to maintain geostationary satellites.


Compared to geostationary satellites, fibre optic cables are easier to maintain and require less maintenance, hence, they are a cheaper and more widely used communication route vis-à-vis geostationary satellites. With last mile access to household at a cheaper cost per unit of information compared to satellite communications, fibre optic cables continues to the utilized for our communication needs, with less resources devoted to the renewal of old and must be replaced satellites. Hence, except for Africa, where there is less mileage of fibre optic cable, geostationary satellites are likely to be increasingly out of favour amongst communications companies due to high cost of investment and maintenance.


Category: communications,
Tags: geostationary satellites, cost, fibre optic, last mile access,




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