Repurposing satellites for affordable Internet access for Pacific Islands

02 Jun 2016

Providing affordable, reasonably priced broadband is a special challenge when the market is the Pacific Islands - 18 countries spread over thousands of small islands some with a population of just thousands.

John Hawker, VP for Australia-Pacific at ABS, explained that the cost of maintaining fiber becomes prohibitive and satellite prices were very high, typically at over $2,000 per Mbps.

In the Federated States of Micronesia, ABS last year won a tender for 60 Mbps. Hawker said that he managed to get the price at half the previous market rate this year because FSM tripled capacity as they were able to easily resell the bandwidth. This has led to knock-on development with software incubators and mobile money solutions being rolled out with huge benefits to society.

Mobile money is especially relevant when people are on a tiny island with no banking infrastructure at all.

The Pacific islands have learned that C-Band is the best frequency to use. People might not want to watch YouTube in a storm, but they still might want to call for help.

In order to achieve this, ABS moved one of its satellites, ABS-6 from 75 degrees to 159 degrees, right above the Pacific. The satellite was originally designed to cover Russia and Central Europe for video and thus the transponder footprints do not quite match up - for instance, New Zealand is not covered at all, but other than that it covers the Pacific market quite well.

Hawker said that this was possible partly due to luck. ABS-6 (back then called ABS-1) was scheduled to be launched as part of a dual payload. However, the other satellite was cancelled meaning that ABS-6 was sent much higher into orbit by the rocket. The fuel saved means that the satellite will be operational until 2024, a full ten years longer than what it was designed for when it was launched back in 1999.

“This isn’t charity, but I believe in companies having a corporate social responsibility. Everyone deserves access to broadband at reasonable prices,” he said.

Booth: 1R3-01

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