The primary purpose of this book, and the introductory seminars out of which it grew, is to explain to nontechnical people the concepts, terminology, buzzwords, and jargon of the commercial satellite communications industry, and to show the interconnections between its various technologies and components. This book attempts to survey the entire commercial satellite telecommunications industry, and to that end discusses everything from decibels; to principles of radio propagation; launch vehicles; link budgets; business, legal, and regulatory issues; and services provided by satellites. The content and presentation have been refined through seminars given for two decades by the author to thousands of business people and hundreds of organizations in public and on-site sessions all over the world. The people who take the seminar, and at whom this book is aimed, come primarily from such occupations as banking and investment, public relations, marketing, writing, insurance, law, and corporate management. These are people who are involved with or interested in the satellite communications industry, but have not had specialized training. In other words, these are the nonspecialists.
Part 1 of this book sets out the historical, business, and regulatory background of the commercial satellite industry. Some examples show how the technology is used to provide specific satellite applications and build markets. Part 2 covers the technical background necessary for understanding the concepts and applications of the entire field of telecommunications. Part 3 continues by explaining the space segment part of the business. Part 4 covers the ground side. Part 5 puts it all together, linking satellites and Earth. Finally, Part 6 contains an overview of the major satellite systems and applications, and a brief discussion of some of the issues and trends affecting the industry.
The chapters of the book contain very little mathematics, just enough to convey the concepts necessary for understanding rather complicated technical concepts. Most of the equations and formulas have been banished to Appendix E, which is provided for those with more mathematical preparation who are interested in the details. For nontechnical readers, the formulas are largely unnecessary for basic understanding of concepts, providing official definitions rather than as something the typical reader is expected to master in detail. The major exceptions to this are a few definitions of terms and the technical climax of the text in Chapter 19 dealing with the all-important topic of link budgets.
Complex technical concepts are explicated using everyday analogies that allow a nonspecialist to extrapolate from familiar situations to unfamiliar technical applications.
Another objective of the book is to help make palatable the thick, often murky and indigestible alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations that are a part of any technical endeavor. Engineers are fine and useful people, but they often forget that not everyone has had the training they have had, and thus they often speak in their own language. (A particular favorite is TDMA, which engineers in the field know to mean “Time-Division Multiple Access” but which many nonengineers consider refers to the “Too Damn Many Acronyms” encountered in the field!) An even more appropriate example is the self-referential TLA, which stands for “Three- Letter Abbreviation!” The glossary contains a long list of TLAs, FLAs, and so on.
This book is designed to help nonspecialists understand and converse with the technical personnel in the satellite industry, to be able to read and understand the relevant trade journals and exhibits at trade shows, and to help them explain the concepts to their colleagues and customers. (As I jokingly tell my students, by the end of the course they should be able to converse with technical personnel and construct entire sentences containing only jargon and acronyms, and no real English whatsoever!)
Sometimes attendees at the seminars remark at the start that they are interested in a particular aspect of the industry, and not interested in some other topic. By the end of the seminar, they realize that a synoptic view is important. For instance, even if you personally never plan to have to buy a launch vehicle, knowing about launchers is important because what a satellite system operator has to pay for launch partially determines what it has to charge for satellite services.
A very common misconception among nontechnical people who are trying to understand technical issues is that there are generic answers to many technical questions or generic technical solutions to desired services. This desire for simplicity is understandable, but such simplicity is seldom possible. There are always trade-offs, balancing such issues as cost, quality, and speed. For instance, I have had seminar attendees and consulting clients ask such questions as “Which is better, satellites or optical fibers?” or “Which is better, FDMA or TDMA?” or “Which is better, low orbits or high orbits?” The only generic answer to all these questions is “No,” because until you know what the detailed requirements of the system are, you cannot specify the technical details. This is another reason that seeing the interconnections of all the parts of the industry is important. You always need to start with the users’ requirements and work to find the appropriate technology. This book sets out many of the trade-offs that need to be considered when planning a specific satellite telecommunication service.
A secondary audience is technical people who are entering the commercial satellite communications business for the first time from other fields such as computers, broadcasting, or military satcomms, and for those in the satellite industry who need a refresher to show the applications, relevance, and interconnections of the various parts of the industry. Often technical people work in one small specialized area of the industry, and while they know their “trees” well, they have little knowledge of the “forest” of the industry around them. Thus the book includes an overview of the business, technical, and regulatory issues of satellite communications, which often have their own specialized jargon. I have also had many technical people take the seminar in order to learn how to communicate concepts and what they are doing to their less-technical colleagues and customers. More-technical readers will find Appendix E gives them a bit more mathematical depth, but it is not in any way designed as a substitute for more technical engineering references.
As in any introduction, some explanations cannot be as complete or as comprehensive as in more detailed (and highly mathematical) technical references, and some details an engineer might want included have been left out in the interests of simplicity. Nevertheless, it is hoped the examples and analogies will prove useful and instructive, and references are given in the appendices to further information.
Since not every example nor company and its products and services can be included, it is hoped those chosen for illustrative purposes are representative and helpful. The mention of any particular company, product, service, or organization is not intended to be a recommendation of that entity, just as the omission of any particular company, product, or service is not meant as a slight nor negative recommendation, but merely as an indication of availability of appropriate material, or of the reality of constrained space. An extensive appendix points to other, more detailed sources of information. Readers should also search the vast resources of the World Wide Web; some useful addresses are given in the Appendix, with the caveat that websites seem to come and go irregularly.
Further, although this text is intended to be up-to-date, change in telecommunication is rapid, continual, and global. Changes in technology, laws, regulations, politics, corporate structures, and users’ needs occur frequently. Sudden events, from launch of a new satellite, to the failure of a satellite, to the purchase of one company by another, can cause instantaneous alterations in the industry. Only periodicals can (attempt to) keep up with this, and you are urged to refer to the magazines and newsletters in Appendix D for the latest information.
Mark R. Chartrand
July 18, 2003