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National prestige in the acquisition of satellites

I’ve always wondered what the attraction of national satellites is. Especially geo-stationary satellites for telecom. Below is the explanation I finally came up with and my suggestion of what is appropriate in this day and age. The excerpt is from a piece published in Pakistan and Sri Lanka a few months back.

In the 1960s, massive antenna connected to a geostationary satellite provided a qualitatively superior solution for international backhaul over the extant methods of copper cables wrapped in gutta-percha or radio waves that bounced off the ionosphere. That technological revolution of their youth appears deeply imprinted in the minds of today’s decision makers.

But this particular use is obsolete. Geosynchronous satellites are located 35,786 km above sea level. It takes more than 500 milliseconds (or more than half a second) for a signal to go up to the satellite and come down, resulting in high latency, or delay. Latencies greater than 300 ms are unacceptable for most present-day communication applications. User expectations and system parameters have been shaped by the short latencies possible with fiber-optic cables.

Satellites are still used for telecommunication in regions with low population densities. These low-earth or medium-earth orbit (LEO/MEO) satellites keep latencies at acceptable levels but require complex hand-offs between satellites, because they are not stationary relative to earth. The amount of data they can carry is less than what fiber-optic cables can. Thus, they are not competitive with fiber backhaul in densely populated South Asia.

Myanmar is the least densely populated country in SE Asia, so I could see the value of LEO/MEO solutions for telecom. But it appears the fixation is on GEOs, like everyone else. The difference is that U Than Htun Aung gives an honest answer as to why.

Myanmar has pursued a satellite program for five years now, with the country following the lead of others, according to Post and Telecommunications (PTD) director U Than Htun Aung.

The program – which aims to vault a Myanmar satellite into the sky – chases commercial benefits, security and national prestige, he said.

“If you can get all the bandwidth together from one satellite, it will reduce the cost very, very much and will benefit broadcast operators, telecom operators as well as private users,” he said.

“The second purpose is for security – if we have control of our own satellite, it will give a lot of leverage in terms of having protection of our own citizens.”

“The third thing is national prestige. Many countries around Southeast Asia already have satellite programs in place, so we are also trying to catch up with them.”

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