Saturday, January 12, 2013

Business at satellite speed

(Published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 7 January 2013)

THE PRIVATE SECTOR must now take the lead in restoring the Philippines’ presence in space.

The government is beset by a plate-full of economic, national security and other concerns that limit its ability to spearhead the lofting of a new Philippine satellite that will assist in the expansion of national services beyond our crowded metropolitan regions, and at the same time help sustain the high economic growth we are experiencing.

Growth at this level can be stymied without the critical infrastructure satellite communications can provide. By its immunity from terrestrial disasters such as typhoons, a satellite can enhance long-distance communications and expand wireless broadband Internet coverage across our entire archipelago. National security, disaster preparedness and distance learning are just a few of the many benefits a satellite orbiting serenely in space will support.

For business firms, a satellite enhances the point-to-multipoint communications that can boost sales and cut costs. It also expands broadband access to the Internet, which is undoubtedly the home page of 21st century business. A satellite allows companies to have a national presence from the first day of service without the costly terrestrial infrastructure that accompanies cellular and cabled services.

A necessity
Current business, national security and national development issues make it essential that the Philippines have its own dedicated space communications satellite to replace Agila-2, formerly the country’s only satellite that now orbits the Earth over the Middle East as ABS-3.

In January 2009, Mabuhay Satellite Communications, Inc., (MSC) a subsidiary of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, sold Agila-2 to the Bermuda-based firm, Asia Broadcast Satellite Holdings Ltd. (ABS), for some Php400 million, extinguishing the Philippines’ lone foothold in space.

The loss of our only Philippine satellite was a severe blow to the country’s technological independence. It means that we continue to depend on satellites of competitor states for strategic business and military telecommunications.

Even worse is to not do anything about the loss of our own satellite in a digital age where technology multiplies national strength. This inaction will only serve to hold future Filipinos hostage to the whims of other nations.

Left behind
The Philippines is the only country among the top five richest Southeast Asian states without its own communications satellite. That must change.

Indonesia has 9 satellites; Malaysia has 4; Singapore, 9 and Thailand, 5. Even Vietnam now has its own satellites. In May 2012, Vietnam orbited Vinasat 2, its second satellite.

The business and security issues facing the Philippines today present both greater opportunities and greater threats that can successfully be addressed by a satellite dedicated to the Philippines’ unique interests.

A business edge with satellites
At the business end, a Philippine satellite can help provide the massive bandwidth required by mobile devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and laptops for high-speed, broadband Internet-on-demand, anytime, anywhere.

Satellite Internet can deliver download speeds in the hundreds of megabits per second in contrast to the hundreds of kilobits per second in terrestrial technologies such as 3G.

“Satellites can help return the Philippines to where it was more than 40 years ago when it was at the head of Asia, using technology to facilitate nationwide economic development and security, and not at the back of Asia,” said Tom van der Heyden, an American national and a leading satellite communications expert.

He believes a satellite catering to the Philippine market will make money and that pent-up demand will drive growth. The reach of a single satellite is far more extensive than what any terrestrial network can achieve.

Van der Heyden said a medium-sized satellite should be able to find clients for its on-board transponders in about 3 to 4 years based on the rapid demand for Internet and other nationwide communication requirements.

“The demand is high and the market huge, and this can sustain a number of Philippine satellites,” believes van der Heyden, who has made the Philippines his second home for the last 10 years and is married to a Filipina.

Broadband Internet via satellite
One of the key engines that will fuel demand for satellite communications will be wireless broadband Internet access and video applications. Van der Heyden said the incredible growth of the Internet is killing cellular companies because they can’t distribute wireless broadband Internet fast enough and maintain acceptable quality.

Globally, the Internet relies on satellites for “backhaul” or the link between a core network such as a telecoms provider or a broadcast network to the small sub-networks that distribute content. The point-to-multipoint capability of a satellite makes backhaul via satellite cheaper and more reliable than terrestrial telecommunications.

“It (backhaul) doesn’t exist here,” van der Heyden pointed out.

“It’s like living in a desert. I received a quote for a business DSL recently. The highest 'guaranteed' rate they’re offering is about one megabit for P50,000 per month. Who can afford to grow a business paying that kind of monthly fee, not to mention it’s only available in limited areas!”

What exists here is an expensive but vulnerable network of terrestrial cellular and fixed broadband base stations that rely on fiber optic cables to distribute content throughout the archipelago. The result is very expensive Internet and slow download speeds.

The dearth of broadband capacity is also the reason for the popularity of WiMAX or the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. WiMAX is a technology that provides wireless broadband access to a wider area covering several kilometers.

WiMax is gaining traction because it’s an economical solution to the “last mile problem” that makes current Internet technologies such as 3G so expensive. Despite this, WiMax can only reach out to a few kilometers as against a satellite that can provide wireless broadband service to subscribers in an area hundreds of kilometers in size.

A satellite is ideal for bringing broadband to the last mile of residences and businesses, thereby lowering Internet costs. Satellite networks are also extremely predictable compared to terrestrial Internet Protocol networks that are a mix of different networks. This means satellite networks can deliver a constant and uniform quality of service to thousands of locations, irrespective of geography.

If Europe and North America continue to build and launch satellites focused on Internet service, then there should be no question of a satellite’s value to an archipelago that has limited terrestrial infrastructure to cover its 7,000 islands.

Consortium needed
When the Philippines started thinking satellites in the 1990s, the Department of Transportation and Communications spearheaded the formation of consortium of telecom companies that invested millions of pesos to launch Agila since a single company was unable to raise the US$300 to US$400 million needed to launch the satellite.

We need incentives of this sort today to enable a consortium to launch a new Philippine satellite. Van der Heyden suggested that the government could provide enough incentives and tax breaks to encourage investors in the satellite business. 

“It’s a win-win already benefiting over 50 countries around the world. There’s no reason why the formula should be anything but better for the Philippines,” said van der Heyden.

The government can also help by guaranteeing its own capacity requirements on the new satellite. This capacity can be used for secure government communications, especially those made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and by commercial, business, banking, remote education and disaster recovery efforts.

Van der Heyden believes a firm government commitment to lease transponders could generate enough funding to launch a minimum of one or likely two satellites.

And if the private Filipino consortium wants to cut costs further, it can opt not to build a new satellite but instead partner with foreign business firms to buy a small satellite.

This will allow the partners to split costs and do commercial deals. The aim is to generate a faster return on investment by leasing transponders faster while reserving capacity for Philippine government needs.

A satellite transponder is a device that receives a radio signal and automatically transmits a different signal, often without changing the content of the received signal. Communications satellites earn money through transponder leasing.

Former MSC President Garie Pimentel, who is now an ABS executive, said the Southeast Asian satellite market is very competitive. The rising number of countries in Asia orbiting their own national satellites has resulted in overcapacity.

He said the new trends lean towards “hosted payloads,” “condo-sats” and other joint ventures. It is not essential that a country own a satellite if it cannot afford one. 

National security needs
The pressing needs of national security demand the Philippines gain control over its international communications, especially military communications via satellite. Secure military communications are vital for effective national action in conflict or potential conflict areas such as the West Philippine Sea.

This country cannot and should never rely on Indonesia or Malaysia, and especially China, to handle or control its military communications for obvious national security reasons. Pimentel concedes the country needs its own satellite communications. 

“For its security needs, I agree that the AFP’s VSAT network cannot be hosted on a satellite controlled by a foreign power. One can easily imagine what would happen to this network should the country be in conflict with the country that controls this satellite.”

The primordial business need to seize competitive advantages is bound to drive Filipino businessmen, especially those involved in information and communications technology, to once again consider the profitable opportunities that accrue from operating their own commercial satellite.

Now is the time to do so.

Ad for the former Agila-2, which now serves Africa ad ABS-3

Editor’s Note: Art Villasanta and Peter Galace have been writing about satellites and the space industry for well over a decade. They co-authored an extensive research and market study about Philippine telecommunications for an international research firm. Galace also co-wrote the only book written by Filipinos about the history of the world’s commercial satellite industry.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Only memories and memorials will remain

RIZAL WAS RIGHT: a person has to recall the lessons of his past to forge a better future. Taking this adage to embrace the Filipino nation means Filipinos must cast a studied eye at past greatness to exceed that greatness in the future.

This country is a Great Nation. But it is a Nation that has forgotten the meaning of greatness because it refuses to recognize the greatness in its past.

For some Filipinos whose minds are warped by the archetypal image of the downtrodden Pinoy, these bold statements will be shocking. These Filipinos will be hard pressed to remember a time in our history when Filipinos were great.

What they will see are some four centuries of unrelieved Spanish tyranny; close to five decades of petty American “culture” and three years of inhuman Japanese brutality.

Where is the greatness in this litany of oppression?

Memories of Filipino greatness
The greatness lies in that the Filipino Nation defeated four centuries of imperial racism by these colonial empires.

The greatness lies in the Filipino Nation defeating the hated Spaniards in 1898. A local revolt in what is now Quezon City triggered in 1896 by an obscure warehouse helper named Andres Bonifacio grew so rapidly that it had reduced Spain’s hold on the Philippines to the single city of Intramuros by 1898.

Filipino revolutionaries, mostly unlettered farmers armed with bolos and bamboo spears and emboldened by an enduring hatred of the Spaniard, had inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Spanish Empire and had wrested control of Las Islas Filipinas from the unwelcome invader.

Independence would have been ours had not the Americans intervened in 1898. It became ours in 1946 but only after a vicious war against the barbaric Japanese that left some one million Filipinos dead by 1945, out of a population of only 17 million Filipinos.

Filipino guerillas, mostly unlettered farmers armed with bolos and bamboo spears like their Revolutionary fathers and emboldened by an intense hatred of the Japanese, had helped inflict one of the greatest military defeats in the history of the Empire of Japan.

Of the 380,000 Japanese invaders in the Philippines in October 1944, only 40,000 remained alive when the Imperial Japanese Army surrendered to Filipinos in Kiangan, Ifugao on September 2, 1945. The Philippines was the largest grave of Japanese soldiers in Southeast Asia during World War 2.

What is not well known even until today is how effective the Filipino was in the guerilla war against the Japanese. When the Americans returned to the Philippines at Leyte in October 1944, Filipino guerillas controlled 36 of the Philippines’ 48 provinces.

This almost complete Filipino domination of the countryside meant that fighting was limited to pockets of Japanese resistance, mostly in the larger cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Some of these pockets such as those in north Luzon proved difficult to crush, but the task of exterminating the Japanese would have been much harder for the Filipino-American allies had the Japanese held the countryside.

The Japanese did not, and this disadvantage proved fatal to them in the long-run since they were unable to deploy soldiers, equipment and supplies freely to where they were needed. Filipino guerillas blockaded roads, destroyed bridges and attacked Japanese convoys almost at will. American airpower constricted Japanese movements even more.

The great Battle of Bessang Pass in Ilocos Norte from February to June 1945—the greatest victory by Filipinos over the Japanese—was an all-Filipino battle that proved the martial superiority of Filipinos over the Japanese in the attack.

By defeating the entrenched Japanese who held positions in hills and ridges some 1,500 meters high, the Filipino guerillas of the United States Army Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL) put to a victorious end to the most vicious close quarter battle of the Liberation, and finally surrounded the remnants of the Imperial Japanese Army in north Luzon in a ring of steel from which they were unable to escape.

Memorials to Filipino greatness
But it was the great defensive struggle for Bataan and Corregidor from January to May 1942 that most vividly illustrates the innate greatness of the Filipino.

Unprepared, ill-equipped and mostly untrained, the Filipinos of the Commonwealth Army fatally disrupted Japan’s timetable for conquest by their superhuman endurance and bravery. Our resistance against mammoth odds set the stage for an unbroken string of Japanese defeats that began at the Battle of Midway a month after the surrender of Corregidor, and ended with the annihilation of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines in September 1945.

With our blood and suffering, we had bought time for the Americans to counterattack, and for Freedom to win in the end.

All this, most Filipinos of today remain contentedly unaware.

If you do want to be inspired by tangible monuments to our past heroism, go on a pilgrimage to Bataan and Corregidor, the Holy Shrines to Filipino Heroism.

But before you embark on the guided tour of these Sacred Grounds, first immerse yourself in their history. Read about our resistance in the Second World War so you will see beyond the immediate images of shattered buildings, massive mortars and battlegrounds long since overgrown with new grass.

Your mindset must be that of a religious pilgrim, not that of a tourist. A religious pilgrim sees the significance behind the symbols; a tourist sees symbols merely as backgrounds for his photographs.

Your tour guide will go on and on about battlegrounds that have since become tourist spots. He will crack jokes and in the main resemble something of an entertainer.

Forget his facetiousness, and remember the ground on which you tread has been sanctified by the blood of our grandfathers and fathers.  Tread lightly and with reverence.

This sacredness is more palpable on Corregidor. I visited “The Rock” on April 7 as part of a group that took part in the “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor) commemoration. This group consisted of a few World War 2 veterans and a horde of young people who traveled to the island on board the BRP Pampanga, a search and rescue vessel of the Philippine Coast Guard.

The trip was arranged by the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), the government agency that looks after the welfare of Filipino veterans of all our wars and internal conflicts.

Corregidor had changed substantially since I last visited in the 1970s. It’s very tourist friendly, meaning that the wants and needs of tourists are adequately met by the island’s infrastructure and people.

Corregidor has been wonderfully preserved. The sheer commercialism of the tourist trade on which Corregidor thrives seems an affront to this Holy Shrine, but tourism seems the only way to make Filipinos realize the exceptional valor that ruled this island 60 years ago.

The massive mortars and guns of the Corregidor batteries remain the “star” of these guided tours. And, at every battery, tour guides give you ample time for “picture-picture.”

The guns have been painted a warm green. In contrast, they were unpainted when I first saw them decades ago. I must admit the dull and menacing color of naked steel was more impressive than the friendly green that coats these guns today.

At “Topside,” however, is the most imposing monument to Filipino gallantry on Corregidor. Here stands the “Filipino Heroes Memorial,” a shrine studded with statues and symbols honoring the Filipino soldier, guerilla and the Filipino Nation In Arms during World War 2.

 The most imposing, and the largest statue, is that honoring the Filipino guerilla. It depicts a muscular and bare chested Filipino farmer shouldering an Enfield rifle.

Wrapped around his left shoulder is the rope used to tie his carabao and resting against his right leg is the “araro” or plow used to till his field. A sheathed bolo hangs from a rope tied around his waist.

Behind him stands the tallest flagpole on the island from which flutters a huge National Flag.

It is an image both familiar and frightening. It is as if this gentle soul was forced into the brutal task of fighting so he could once again revert to his former and gentler self.

The many monuments on this island proclaim loudly about Filipino heroism and greatness. It will be impossible not to be awed by the magnificent symbolism.

On the sun-baked province of Bataan, however, the symbols to Filipino heroism are fewer and not at myriad as those on Corregidor. But they are much larger, and none is larger than the 92 meter tall Dambana ng Kagitingan Memorial Cross (Shrine of Valor Memorial Cross) at the peak of historic Mt. Samat.

The absence of massive guns and shattered buildings endows the Mt. Samat memorial shrine complex with a serenity that makes it difficult to comprehend the terror faced by Filipinos who stubbornly defended this ground against a better equipped enemy.

Here, on this hallowed ground 60 years ago, Filipinos fought the final actions in the doomed Battle for Bataan. They had held out months longer than the enemy anticipated, and had at one point come close to decisively defeating the Japanese in Bataan.

Here, Filipinos were shot, blasted, bayoneted and burned to death. Surrender did not halt their suffering. The murderous Bataan Death March saw the Japanese murder 10,000 surrendered Filipino fighting men along the 128 kilometer route from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac.

Try as one might, it proves difficult imagining that these horrific events took place here among the well-manicured gardens and lush greenery. Nature’s healing beauty has paved over the unspeakable horror this mountain witnessed six decades ago.