By Dr Dawie de Wet, CEO of Q-KON
Satellite networks are reliable, very reliable. The very nature of the technology integrated with sound engineering practises leads to the most trusted and reliable connectivity solutions available today. Just for a moment consider how reliable technologies on board the satellites really has to be in order to ensure perfect operation over a life span of 20 years without the option to do any repairs or even preventative maintenance.
Financial institutions require reliable services. Guaranteed up-time is crucial to ensure ongoing business delivery using ATM’s, branches and regional networks. The demand for ATM services is extreme… they must be reliable 24/7 to prevent customer disappointment. Branch networks have to operate with a 100% availability during business hours; and regional networks have to make sure the international core network remains fully operational. All of these business requirements can very elegantly be serviced using satellite networks.
The question then is; why are satellite networks not the default choice to meet these requirements. Typically the first response to this question will be to mention the high costs and the impact of the communication latency due to the distance data needs to travel to the satellite and back.
But perceptions are changing. Very specific developments within the satellite industry linked to the increasing weaknesses and risks of alternative communications networks, are driving a new wave of collaboration between the financial sector and specialist satellite network providers to unlock tangible business benefits through application of satellite technology.
A Perfect Storm
The joint impact of the current congestion experienced on mobile networks in urban areas plus the weak signal coverage in rural areas (and added to this the impact of power load-shedding on terrestrial ADSL and fibre networks) are creating the perfect storm to destroy network availability and trusted business delivery.
These changes in the South African and African markets are eroding the previous default decisions to use mobile 3G services as the primary connections for ATM terminals and redundant ADSL networks for branch connectivity. The impact of the macro environment has simply put business in a position where these options no longer meet the user requirements of the day.
Time to rethink
When the going gets tough … the tough gets thinking… or at least that is the version the team at Q-KON would like to propose since through constructive collaboration between business and satellite engineering some interesting options can be implemented.
The key premise to any successful network design is to leverage the fundamental strengths and counterbalance the weaknesses. Knowing that a satellite network’s fundamental strength is reliability and the principle requirement for financial services is network availability, we can appreciate that powerful satellite financial network solutions are possible.
Although each business environment differs and it is not possible to provide an elementary “one-size-fits-all” solution there are some principles that can be leveraged. For example ATM terminals’ connectivity must be reliable with low data usage. In this scenario satellite services can be deployed as primary service and will enable significant cost reductions and high availability results. The expected cost disadvantage of satellite networks are not an issue, since the scale and volume of ATM terminal networks reduce the nett “per-terminal” cost to below current 3G cost points.
For Branch networks the scenario is very different. Branch operations require high capacity, high availability circuits and in this application satellite networks can be deployed as back-up service. With the new satellite technologies expected to become available in 2016 and 2017 it will be very feasible to provide satellite back-up services at 10Mps or more; using low-cost 1m equipment terminals.
Also, as a back-up network the satellite solution provides the reliability required and because this is a back-up service the cost per site is further lessened to enable cost savings vs terrestrial alternatives.
Power load-shedding is introducing a range of complexities and challenges to all businesses and it is expected that this will remain part of our medium term scenario. With the negative effect this has on ADSL and terrestrial networks it has become necessary to also consider the advantages of satellite networks in this context. Because satellite networks operate by installation of an end user terminal only with no repeater or rely terminals, satellite networks can therefore ensure communication continuity provided there are UPS or alternative power supply available at the end-points. Within this scenario a business has the option to deploy satellite networks to ensure on-going connectivity for critical business operations and in this way alleviate load-shedding impact.
It is expected that the emerging satellite technologies can play a significant role to enable the financial and many other services industries. Through the deployment of large-scale financial networks we have already demonstrated the theory of “satellite is expensive and has unacceptable latency” is no longer applicable. When forward thinking customers and niche satellite operators collaborate to integrate business needs and applied system engineering principle it is very possible to implement satellite networks, which both enable and grow the business while at the same time lessen risks and lower costs.