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W Band and Novel Plan Bridge Digital Divide

May 2007
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
Once launched with the appropriate communications payloads, satellites in geosynchronous orbit will provide converged communications capabilities worldwide on the W band.
“They” say it can’t be done, but this visionary is determined to prove them wrong.

A tiny nation on the brink of bankruptcy and a tenacious technological futurist could parent a telecommunications leap as significant as the Internet itself. The Republic of Nauru, a South Pacific island one-quarter the size of Manhattan, is set to be the host country licensor of the Super Wide Area Network, defined by its creator as Wi-Fi or WiMAX on steroids. Once built and launched, the satellite system not only would offer unheard-of ubiquitous communications capabilities but also would bridge the digital divide with a business model that provides citizens of even the poorest countries with access to the latest technologies.

As currently envisioned, the Super Wide Area Network Satellite (SWANsat) system will be a constellation of no less than four and possibly as many as a dozen high-power geosynchronous orbiting (GSO) satellites licensed to provide two-way broadband services using 10 gigahertz of electromagnetic frequency in the W band. With the exception of the regions near the North Pole and South Pole, each bidirectional signal will cover the globe, and each spacecraft in the constellation will be able to deliver 600 million 2-megabit-per-second broadband Internet connections and about a quarter-million video channels worldwide.

The first spacecraft containing the communications payload is planned for deployment in late 2012, and subsequent launches would occur annually until the entire constellation is in place. According to Dr. William Welty, creator of the SWANsat concept and manager of SWANsat Holdings LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming, once the SWANsat system is up and running, customers will use a handset that features universal serial bus 2 and FireWire ports, in/out audio and video connections with a built-in 30-frame-per-second video camera, a Bluetooth wireless headset and a built-in FM transmitter.

Among the services included with a SWANsat subscription are free unlimited worldwide voice communications with no international calling fees, worldwide fax services and audio- and videoconferencing. In addition, customers will have high-speed Internet access, secure socket layer encrypted e-mail service with user-defined spam filtering, personal Web pages, 250 megabytes of e-mail and file server storage, digital satellite video and radio, and home school educational and entertainment channels at no charge. Encrypted global positioning system location capabilities and worldwide secure emergency services also are part of the subscriber package. Welty’s business model calls for a per-subscriber service fee of $100 per month, well below the amount telecommunications users are paying today for these capabilities, which often are supplied by several vendors.

Rather than area or country codes, the SWANsat business model features nine subscriber account territories, or SATs, each with its own code number. Although the entire package will not be available for several years, customers already can reserve subscriber accounts by purchasing MySWANmail e-mail accounts through the 128-bit fully encrypted e-mail service. The accounts are accessible via subscribers’ current Internet landline or wireless connections.

The personal account will be assigned to one of the SATs based on a customer’s physical address. Clients with more than one residence located in different territories will be able to select one primary World Code. Subscriber account numbers will resemble a combination of today’s telephone numbers and Internet protocol addresses, for example, 101.1.8777926728.swan. The dot-swan top-level domain will not be available until the SWANsat satellites are in orbit. According to Welty, every effort will be made to assign customers the SWANsat subscriber account number that matches their home or cell phone number.

This kind of bleeding-edge technology is not exactly new to Welty. His experience in telecommunications began in 1982 when he pursued and obtained a broadcast license from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate, on an interim basis, the facilities of the ultrahigh frequency KHOF-TV channel in San Bernardino, California. In addition, he opened the last round of Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) applications with the FCC in 1987 and sold his DBS interests in 1996, donating all the proceeds from the sale to a charitable trust. Welty began pursuing the SWANsat project in 1997.

The road was not easy during the SWANsat concept’s formative years. Welty conducted his own analysis of spectrum worldwide and found a section of spectrum allocated many years ago for fixed, mobile and broadcast service. “Today, all of that is converged, but the regulations haven’t caught up with the technology yet,” he muses. “I decided to drive a truck through the loophole.”

The analysis revealed that all of the United Nations’ information and communication technology (ICT) regulations were based on the common carrier and broadcast models. However, Welty points out that today’s technologies enable the convergence of these two models and that common carrier and broadcast services already are merged at Web sites such as YouTube. “For SWANsat, there are not just two kinds of information and communication technologies, there are three, and we invented the third form and exempted it from the regulations of either,” Welty claims. “I wrote my own ITU [International Telecommunication Union] regulation to cover the exemption for a frequency that was allocated but never assigned by the ITU.”

After completing his analyses, Welty initially thought about approaching the FCC with his plan to use the W band for converged services. However, he had become disenchanted with the FCC in the 1990s when it began auctioning spectrum to pay down the national debt. Calling the practice a “prebusiness tax” set by the losers who increase their bids so that the winners pay higher prices, Welty instead decided his next step would be to explore options outside the United States. It took him six years, but Welty finally found a home he was comfortable with for his new venture: the Republic of Nauru.

The island nation of Nauru is located in the Micronesian South Pacific and is 8.1 square miles in land area. It has a population of scarcely more than 13,000—about the same as the student body of a mid-size U.S. university. The island’s primary source of income since the early 20th century had been the exportation of phosphate, which was mined there. However, after severely depleting this resource, Nauru became a tax haven for a brief time then, in 2001, began receiving financial aid from the Australian government. In return for the funds, the island became the home of a detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia.

As an ITU nation-state, Nauru has the authority to license companies to operate space stations in the W band. The country granted licenses to SWANsat in March 2004 and filed an Advanced Publication Information statement with the ITU on behalf of the Republic of Nauru in April 2004. By mid-2005, the filing procedures to recognize Nauru’s grants of GSO slot allocations and W-band assignments for SWANsat’s first constellation had begun. The assignments include the 71-gigahertz (GHz) to 76-GHz and 81-GHz to 86-GHz spectra located in Band 11 of the extremely high frequency 30-GHz to 300-GHz band.

Welty emphasizes that the business negotiations and subsequent agreements were neither a matter of a big corporation taking advantage of a poor country nor a situation of a desperate country grasping at a last economic straw. Instead, by adopting an unusual and relatively unique economic-business model, he believes that SWANsat not only will bring ubiquitous converged communications capabilities to the world and prosperity back to the Republic of Nauru but also will demonstrate that the Shareware Telecommunications economic model can fill the digital divide.

Appreciating this new business paradigm means first understanding that SWANsat is owned by a nonprofit charitable trust. When operational, the SWANsat Foundation Group, a nonprofit corporation sponsored through the Themelios Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust, will serve as a consortium of four nonprofit foundations. The trust is the majority owner of the privately held SWANsat Holdings, licensee of the SWANsat system; the foundations also will sponsor activities other than the communications system.

SWANsat’s patent-pending shareware economic model is, in fact, one way to address shortcomings identified by the United Nations Economic and Social Council and United Nations ICT task force. If the methodology is applied, it would fulfill six of the organization’s Millennium Development strategic long-term goals. These include developing the basic infrastructure necessary for ICT connectivity, implementing measures to reduce connectivity costs and integrating developing nations into the networked knowledge-based global economy.

The model delineates five economic tiers of nations based on per capita income, ranging from tier one of more than $20,000 to tier five of less than $1,500. Because of SWANsat’s signal reach, it would be possible to bring broadband telecommunications services to all tiers of this economic model simultaneously. Welty proposes that this can be done without sacrificing business stability of either the model or the service providers if services to the bottom four tiers are subsidized by the operational surpluses from the top-tier end users as well as from full-paying customers in tiers two through five. Subsidies would be administered through the nonprofit foundation group. For example, if the service costs $100 per month per household, the group would pay $99 of the tab for customers in tier five nations and the charge for each user would be $1.

Welty explains that the economic model includes ensuring that SWANsat would not compete with a local economy it is attempting to boost. To incorporate the local service providers into the financial structure, first SWANsat personnel will use the official national population number that a country reports to the United Nations. Because the very young and very old are not typically computer users, this number will be halved. The quotient will be the country’s official number of computer users, and the local provider will administer the user billing system. In the $100-per-month cost example, the local provider could pay SWANsat $1 per computer user, and the nonprofit group would subsidize the remaining $99 per computer user. “The local providers can charge their computer users $2 a month; the fee structure is up to them. They can decide how to make this work for them in a way that benefits their country,” Welty observes.

This innovative business model resembles some old-fashioned transaction approaches. Welty allows that countries he considered approaching for licensing agreements proposed charging the corporation for providing it a home. But he explained to these countries’ representatives that bartering would be mutually beneficial. Case in point, SWANsat is providing the Republic of Nauru free access for educational use.

Of course, Internet access is useless without computer equipment, and Welty currently is addressing this side of the business equation. A vendor has not yet been chosen for the earth segment of communications, he says, but equipment such as home receivers, telephones, handsets and dish receivers are part of the estimated total cost of the SWANsat project. Of the 10 billion euros, or approximately $13 billion, for overall cost of the system, Welty estimates that 6 billion euros will be needed for the launches and for station keeping, 2 billion euros will be required for public relations and advertising and 2 billion euros will be allocated for user equipment.

Funding to begin the project has not yet been secured, Welty allows, but could come from either nations or private investors. However, the project is moving steadily along, he states. Of the 10 items on the corporation’s “to-do” list, the majority has been checked off. Frequency assessments are complete; orbital research is finished; international licensing is done; and the initial per capita income study of nations is complete.

In addition, IOSTAR Corporation, Salt Lake City, has been under contract to SWANsat Holdings since October 2005 to design, develop, produce and deliver to orbit high-power W-band communications payloads for SWANsat and to manage their on-orbit operations. While Welty will control the commercial side of the SWANsat business, IOSTAR retains the right to pursue business for the SWANsat system in the defense sector.

Items that remain on the to-do list include acquiring landing rights agreements, spreading the word about SWANsat and, of course, obtaining the initial funding. Welty believes that once he can check this last item off, it will be about four and a half years until the satellites are in place and widespread telecommunications can begin.

Welty is not surprised that this technology as well as the Shareware Telecommunications business model sound outlandish to some; in fact, the more people who say it cannot be done, the more convinced he is that he will do it. History is replete with examples of naysayers who turned out to be utterly wrong, he points out. For example, an 1876 Western Union internal memo predicted that the telephone had too many shortcomings to be considered seriously as a means of communication and as such was of no value to the company, and Lord William Thomson Kelvin gave an assessment in the 1800s that radio had no future. Welty even cites reactions that David Sarnoff received in the 1920s when he talked about investing in radio. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” some said to Sarnoff. But, Welty says with a chuckle, “The more people say this isn’t possible, the more I smile.”

 

Web Resources
SWANsat Holdings LLC: www.swansat.com
IOSTAR Corporation: www.iostarcorp.com