Satellite Systems Enable 'Television War'. (Technology)

By Ross, John | African Business, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Satellite Systems Enable 'Television War'. (Technology)


Ross, John, African Business


Satellite based communications really came into their own during the war in Iraq, regarded as the most visible war in history. Journalists are able to transmit live pictures to millions of TV viewers worldwide.

The Iraq war has provided a major boost to satellite-based telecommunications companies -- although with some very unexpected results in some cases.

For example, Geolink, one of the the top Inmarsat service providers in the world, has found willing buyers for its new DVonSAT package. TV reporters in the field, wherever they are in the world, use it to transmit their clips to their broadcast studios. They need only a laptop computer and a dedicated Inmarsat terminal. The equipment weighs less than five kilos and connections meets TV broadcasts standards. The software is easy to use and there is no need to be IT litterate or know anything about satellite communications. In just two hours, journalists can learn how to use it.

Geolink has equiped Al Jazeera TV crews with complete packages. It has clients in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and other countries. The equipment at a very reasonable price of between $15,000 to $20,000, inclusive of training, makes it affordable to even the smaller television networks.

The war in Iraq is also giving a lift to Iridium Satellite, the global satellite telephone system. Military and commercial traffic has increased on the network as troops and press contingents use the satellite telephones.

The System transmits voice and data communications via a constellation of 66 satellites orbiting 485 miles above the Earth, providing coverage around the globe.

A user can call from virtually anywhere in the world to anywhere else using wireless handsets.

About 15,000 Iridium phones are used by the US military world-wide, and that traffic has increased three times within the past two months. One small sector of the military used about 90,000 minutes in just one day during the war.

US MILITARY NERVOUS ABOUT SATPHONES

However, some experts believe the US military has technology that can pinpoint the location of a satphone user, which could make them vulnerable to attack. But Warren Brown, the Director of Communications of Iridium said he is not aware of any such technology. Nevertheless, military and intelligence experts insist targeting technology is possible and could have been used against Iraqi military commanders using satellite phones.

"They are not tied to (Global Positioning Systems), and therefore you won't get an exact location' said Brown. "All you can get is a region, which could be a 100-mile variance.

"Any satellite telephone is an emitter," said Loren Thompson, a defence analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, USA. …

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