Sat-ND, 31.7.97

Sat-ND 97-01-31 - Satellite and Media News

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To anybody who is not involved, the launches of the European Ariane 4 rocket
have become somewhat boring lately. Flight 93 went ahead as planned, set aside
a two-day delay. The U.S. satellite GE 2 and Argentina's NAHUEL 1A were
successfully placed into orbit yesterday in what was described as a textbook
Of course, it was important for everyone who actually was involved. Arianespace
has lifted the heaviest payload in its launch history (Sat-ND, 29.1.97.) GE 2,
estimated at some US$300 million, is "a revolutionary design in spacecraft
technology," said Walter Braun, senior vice president of California-based GE
American Communications. It has approximately 60 percent fewer parts and
components than comparable satellites which makes it possible to put the same
payload in space with almost 1,000 kg less weight."
"With the launch of NAHUEL, Latin America is making an enormous step into the
area of modern telecommunications," said Werner Heinzmann, president of the
Space Systems Group of DASA. NAHUEL 1A was contracted Nahuelsat by Germany's
Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA,) which also holds a 31 share in Nahuelsat. The
satellite was built by France's Aerospatiale. Equipped with 18 Ku-band
transponders, NAHUEL 1A will be positioned over Colombia and provide
telecommunications and television transmission services for South America.
Arianespace said the next launch, Flight 94, is scheduled for February 25 with
INTELSAT 801 on board.

Arianespace holds more than 50 percent of the international launch market. Even
though some competitors have had to put their launches on hold following recent
launch failures, the European consortium still has to prove it can get its
revolutionary Ariane 5 up. 
While other launch providers are busy forging new alliances, Arianespace now
also seems to put out feelers for new allies. 
A few days ago, France and China signed a deal about transfer of space research
and information. The French delegation included Francis Avanzi, director
general of Arianespace. It is somehow unclear what was really signed, and
whether it was just blurb or real business. 
However, Arianespace president Charles Bigot felt the urge to deny rumours that
his company was to provide backup services for China's unreliable launch
services. "There has been no agreement signed with Long March," he told a press
conference recently. 
French minister for posts, telecommunications and space, François Fillon,
didn't consider that a bad idea at all. Among his objectives was "an accord
between Long March and Ariane," Bigot said. He also added that "We are very far
from signing such an agreement." 

The February launch of Thor II, Telenor's new communications satellite, has
been delayed following the explosion of a Delta 2 rocket at Cape Canaveral
(Sat-ND, 17.1.97.) the same type of vehicle which was scheduled to launch Thor
II at the end of February. Telenor's new satellite is equipped with 15
transponders and it will increase capacity on the 1°West position by 15
analogue or 75 digital TV channels aimed at the Nordic countries. 
A panel has been named by the US Air Force to investigate the Delta 2
explosion. In the meantime, all Delta 2 launches are put on indefinite hold. So
far, the Air Force remained silent about the progress of the investigation.
"If we look at similar situations in the past," says Knut Reed, managing
director of Telenor Satellite services, "we can expect a delay of between one
and three months. We shall of course be keeping our customers continuously
updated on the status." He added that Telenor would be "doing our best to let
our customers start distribution of new TV channels to the Nordic market as
soon as possible." 

The European Space Agency (ESA) has contributed to the development of a faster,
more reliable and more accurate satellite distress system for ships at sea, in
the framework of a project promoted by Inmarsat, a global mobile satellite
Called Inmarsat-E (for Emergency), this search and rescue system uses dedicated
L-band channels (at 1.6 GHz) on the existing Inmarsat telecommunications
satellites in geostationary orbit. Inmarsat is committed to offer this service
within the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, being implemented by the
International Maritime Organization (IMO). The Inmarsat-E system was officially
launched yesterday, January 30. Its use will be free of charge, ESA said in a
press release.
New IMO regulations require most ships to carry emergency position indicating
radio beacons, small transmitters (about 1 W in power) that a ship can trigger
in an emergency. The signal is immediately received by the geostationary
satellite and relayed down to a coast Earth station equipped with dedicated and
very sensitive receivers to raise the alarm. The signal includes the identity
of the ship, the type of alert and the ship's position. It is supplied by a
receiver for the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) that is part
of the radio beacon. 
For the Inmarsat-E system, ESA has financed the development and the
manufacturing of two sets of receivers (contracts were awarded to Nortel-DASA,
Germany and Nokia, Finland), while the German Ministry of Transport purchased
two other sets. Three receivers have been installed and are now operating in
stations at Raisting (Germany), Niles Canyon (California) and Perth

Once again, it's digital TV time in Canada. "We are delighted with the
opportunity to offer Canadians an attractive and affordable satellite service
that gives consumers a real alternative to the 'grey' market," said Jim Shaw,
Jr., President and C.O.O. of Shaw Communications.
What has happened? The Canadian Radio and Television Commission CRTC has
approved the company's application for a direct-to-home (DTH) satellite service
called HomeStar. (This is not too unusual; the CRTC had licensed quite a few
digital services before, but miraculously, not a single one went on air -- for
multiple reasons.) 
HomeStar announced, what else, Canadian and U.S. broadcasting and specialty
services, pay and pay-per-view services featuring movies and sports, and a
selection of special interest, multilingual programming services.
Shaw Communications Inc. is a diversified Canadian communications company and
one of the largest cable television operators in the country. It also holds
strategic investments in SEGA Channel, the interactive video games service, and
DMX Canada.

The first digital TV service launched in Spain using the ASTRA satellite system
despite efforts by the government to introduce a common decoder standard.
CanalSatelite Digital (CSD,) controlled by Sogecable, which comprises Promotora
de Informaciones (PRISA,) Canal Plus and Antena 3, started their service;
claiming its decoder standard is both legal and compatible in the European
Union. We all know what that means: those boxes work with the package it was
designed for. Should it receive anything else, it is just a malfunction that
will be rectified by the next software update that is distributed via
The Spanish government favours a different platform to be offered by Telefonica
de España, in which the state holds a 20.9 percent stake (that will later be
privatised.) It will be available maybe in April, maybe in November; anyway not
on ASTRA but on the Spanish satellitte system HISPASAT. Other backers include
Radio and Television of Spain (RTVE), Mexican Grupo Televisa as well as various
regional channels and editorial groups. Earlier, Antena 3 had defected from the
consortium -- a bitter loss as this channel holds what seems to be crucial for
any European pay-TV service's success: football [soccer] rights. 
The Development Ministry claims that a universal standard is necessary in order
to protect viewer's rights. The government was expected to approve new
legislation today that, in effect, would turn the Canalsatellite decoders
already ordered from Philips and Sony "into scrap," a government source said.
Canalsatellite plans to bring up the affair before the European Commission. 

I really wonder whether any of Sat-ND's readers have caught _this_
transmission. Introducing his book "Long Live the Nation of the Downtrodden,"
the Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar al-Qaddafi appeared on satellite
yesterday. News agencies noted he was dressed with a tight brown jacket without
a collar that was reminiscent of science fiction films but did not elaborate on
the satellite that was used for this historical transmission. 
Qaddafi spoke from Libya to Arab intellectuals at the Cairo International Book
Fair yesterday, emphasising that "The Libyan revolution will win and its views
will spread to the whole world." I do have a certain respect for this man, so I
won't say his utterings are mere rubbish, but they're strange in any case.
I don't really know why, but I remembered two lines from a song by a Swiss band
(whose name I have forgotten.) It's at least ten years ago that this was
broadcast on radio, but I still have in on an audio cassette. The two lines, by
the way, go like this: "You know, you should not drive a car / when you're
drunken, Muammar."

Kenya's telecommunications system has been described as inefficient. The U.N.
Environment Programme (UNEP), which has its headquarters in Kenya, seems to
have made some experience of their own with it. Today, it signed an agreement
that will pave the way for a new advanced satellite telecommunications system
to cut costs and improve the agency's information network. The satellite system
may cut UNEP's communications bill by half. Six European nations -- Austria,
Belgium, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and Britain -- provided the initial
Kenya at the same time announced a privatisation plan for state-owned Kenya
Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC.) The plan calls for splitting
up the company into a regulatory body, a posts division and a
telecommunications service. Transport minister Wilson Ndolo Ayah was quoted as
saying "It will be very difficult for KPTC in its present structure to raise
this capital on its own, which is why we are undertaking a step-by-step
liberalisation of the sector in order to attract capital from the private

The US Federal Communications Commission FCC said it will take a look at
proposals that would require direct broadcast satellite providers to carry some
public interest programming. A 1992 law called on DBS services to set aside 4
to 7 percent of their capacity for non-commercial programming but later was
declared unconstitutional. The FCC now is seeking updated comments on the
proposal because the industry has ''grown and changed dramatically'' since

Australian communications minister Richard Alston said that retaining Radio
Australia was not a top priority. He added that a decision on the future of
Australia's international station future was not to be made by the government.
"The government's ultimate responsibility is to propose a sum of money [...]
It's for the ABC itself to decide how it can best cope within the boundaries
set by parliament."

People who use online services may finally be cured from their TV addiction, a
study by Nielsen Media Research indicates. Households with an AOL account watch
15 percent less television than others, the survey says. (Obviously, it was
conducted before AOL introduced the flat rate scheme that has led to a
near-breakdown of the service in the U.S.-- it still works fine in Germany, but
no flat rates apply here -- and some 20 legal cases.) 
Critics noted that the sample only comprised 262 of AOL's (formerly?) 8 million
subscribers. This is easily explained, however, as among the 5,244 U.S.
households randomly selected for the survey, there were just 262 that subscribe
to AOL. (The 8 million figure applies to AOL's world-wide subscriber base, if
I'm right.) 
The study doesn't suggest that AOL members are substituting television with
AOL. The research doesn't take into account that the households might have been
already watching less TV for other reasons, maybe because it's extremely boring
and generally the most idiotic waste of time ever invented. 

RUPERTWATCH -- by Dr Sarmaz
Some say it's the biggest thing since colour TV was launched, others dismiss it
as a lame-duck technology: digital terrestrial TV (or DTT for short.) The
deadline for license applications in the UK was today.
Rupert Murdoch applied for a license, but not on his own. Together with two
major players in Britain, Carlton Communications and Granada Group, he bids for
the maximum three out of six multiplexes in the new digital spectrum under the
label British Digital Broadcasting (BDB.) The 15-channel pay-TV service will
include some of Mr Murdoch's BSkyB channels (Sky Sports, Sky Movies and The
Movie Channel;) newly created channels; and even channels provided by the BBC.
They consist of four of the six BBC Worldwide channels developed in a joint
commercial venture with Flextech.
Digital Television Network (DTN,) part of American cable group CableTel which
also operates ITV's transmission system, has emerged as a rival bidder. Welsh
Fourth Channel S4C is the sole applicant for a licence which covers remaining
space on the multiplex already part reserved for its own existing broadcasts
and those of soon-to-be launched Channel 5.
The existing terrestrial services BBC and ITV will each, by the way,
automatically be assigned a part of the DTT spectrum available in the UK. 
Anyway, DTT will provide consumers with a maximum of 30 channels no sooner than
1998. Mr Murdoch's BSkyB plans to enter the digital satellite market with 200
channels next autumn, although this depends on whether Luxembourg's SES really
manages to get hold of a slot for its ASTRA 2A satellite. Besides, three
quarters of British households have so far resisted the lure of multi-channel
television either on cable or satellite.
Decoder wars? No. BDB, DTN and BSkyB claim they will back two separate but
compatible boxes for their respective digital services, whether satellite-based
or terrestrially distributed. 
The Independent Television Commission is expected to announce its decision in
late spring. Successful bidders must launch the new services no later than July

FEEDBACK -- Sat-ND, 29.1.97
Mogens Poulsen told me that the LA Dodgers were a Major League Baseball team.
Oh, well. Thank you very much, but I never claimed anything different ;-) Maybe
Rupert should also buy a basketball and a football [soccer] team to complete
his sports circus. 

...to BBC Radio One for tonight's programmes. Smashin'! How the heck did BBC
engineers survive that overmodulation and headphone feedbacks? Yeah man!

Copyright 1997 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.

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