W Band and Novel Plan Bridge Digital Divide
“They” say it can’t be done, but this visionary is determined to prove them wrong.
Once launched with the appropriate communications payloads, satellites in geosynchronous orbit will provide converged communications capabilities worldwide on the W band.
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
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
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
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As an ITU nation-state,
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
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
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,
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