Satellite and cable history repeating itself

11 January 2012 | John Hibbard


How satellite and cable history is repeating itself.

Back in the dim distant past, before fibre optics, we had coaxial cables for our trans-oceanic links. The cables, which by today’s terms were low capacity, were used on the main trunk routes, carrying the vital and major revenue producing service – voice. Because they played such a major role in the finances of carriers, any interruption was catastrophic particularly as they were frequently the principal international communications artery for a nation.

Complementing these cables were satellites which provided diversity needed for some degree of network sustainability and security. To ensure an adequate quantity of service, the availability of restoration capacity via satellite was essential. Capacity was set aside by the satellite providers such as Intelsat to make possible the restoration service, required in the event of a cable interruption. Restoration planning became a way of life and the restoration liaison officer was a key person in any network team.

When fibre optics arrived with vast capacity, satellites were no longer able to provide any meaningful back-up capacity. Furthermore the satellite operators had so much video demand they could not allow a single transponder to stay unused waiting for an emergency. So restoration went out of vogue hastened by the development on loop cable networks with inherent back-up.

Many Pacific Islands now have one cable to serve their nation. Although the traffic is now internet, it is as vital to the economics of a carrier and country as voice was in the days of the coax cable. Hence restoration is just as important as it was back then.

However the traditional satellite providers either have no capacity or its price is excessive given the infrequent use. So you can imagine the delight with the recent announcement by O3B that they are developing a restoration offer. It was like manna from heaven. On their low orbit system, transponders which will be in heavy use over Africa will be spare over the Pacific. As the beams cover just about every island in this vast oceanic region, the scope exists for carriers to band together to reserve capacity on a shared basis to provide restoration to whoever has a cable failure.

While we await the numbers, it looks like it will afford a cost effective insurance policy for maintaining service until the broken cable is repaired. The Pacific will look forward with interest and anticipation to hearing more from O3B on this exciting initiative.

John Hibbard is CEO at Hibbard Consulting. He can be contacted at: jhibbard@bigpond.com