Why wouldn't Worldspace touch Taiwan? Because senior management didn't want to do anything that could detract from winning Chinese government approval for broadcasting Worldspace satellite radio to the mass Chinese market. As part of its market entry efforts, Worldspace's uplink station for ASIASTAR's main beam for the Asia-Pacific region was located in Beijing, and Beijing's ChinaSat allegedly had rights to all content for listeners in the satellite's northeast beam. Worldspace's contract manufacturer for its best receivers has been Xian-based Tongshi Data, Ltd. Its receivers were adequate, but certainly no match for the ones that Taiwan's Wistron NeWeb manufactures for Sirius XM.
Worldspace's Darker Side
The Other Side of Worldspace: Satellite Radio and Emergency Response
Under a related but separate program, Worldspace was a player in the Pentagon's Mobile Enhanced Situational Awareness (MESA) initiative, which offered a cost effective means of communicating globally in areas where no communications infrastructure exists or when national communications systems have failed. MESA also has been viewed as a cost effective means of beaming educational material, such as standardized English teaching curricula, to classrooms around the world. The system also is ideal for emergency broadcasting for fishing boats and other ships at sea, and has been tested and adopted for use on United and other airlines that cross the Pacific Ocean.
It's no wonder that satellite radio is very attractive for users in areas with limited communications, areas where there is a serious risk of communciations failures, or where music choices or emergency broadcasting are limited. Once you got your hands on it, Worldspace satellite radio was easy to use and easily proliferated. All one needed was a Tongshi receiver that was barely larger than your hand, an unobstructed view toward the south (from Taiwan), a U.S. $8.00 a month subscription, and line to some speakers or headsets. A terrestrial repeater network, either independent or overlayed onto existing networks, offers a redundant communications pathway.
Satellite Radio, Worldspace, and Taiwan: Good Idea But Bad Partner
So Worldspace wasn't the wisest choice as a partner for XM Radio, the Pentagon, or U.S. defense industry. Allegations of ties with Al Qaida, its zeal for the China market, and the fact that a Chinese state-owned company controlled Worldspace's ASIASTAR Northeast beam should have offered some clues.
This still doesn't negate the fact that satellite radio and Taiwan are made for each other. With Worldspace and its Chinese partnerships presumably out of the picture, maybe now is the time that the Ma administration or the private sector in Taiwan take a close look at satellite radio. Here are four reasons why:
Add Resilience to Taiwan's Communications Infrastructure. Taiwan is prone to earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters and communications are sometimes taken for granted. However, the reality is that Taiwan's communications links with the outside world are pretty tenuous. There are two ways that communications get in and out -- undersea cable and satellite. Its current satellite communications rely on a small number of fixed ground stations, which then hook into the island's main telecommunications switching network. Taiwan has a half dozen or so undersea cables that are small spurs from major undersea trunk lines that by-pass the island. A rupture of one or two of these cables, such as what happened during the December 2006 earthquake off the coast of Kaohsiung, can have major effects on international communications, including internet access. The World Bank in 2005 assessed Taiwan to be one of the most dangerous places on earth, at least when it comes to natural disasters. And satellite radio is a good, cost effective way to make sure you're hooked up with the world when all else fails.
Get Traction for Procurement of Taiwan's Own Communications Satellite. Taiwan has had a plan to procure a broadband communications satellite since at least 1999. There's a good military rationale for the satellite, as well as for homeland security. However, what's been lacking is a good business argument in which there could be at least some return on investment. Worldspace, backed by XM Radio, made the business investment into a satellite to cover the Asia-Pacific region. Having made some bad business decisions, Worldspace went bankrupt. However, one could be assured that Taiwan's entrepreneurial spirit, augmented by both ROC and U.S. government support, would lead to better results. Taiwan currently rents a single transponder on Singapore's ST-1 satellite, and plans for a second satellite deal on ST-2 appear to be on track, with launched scheduled for 4Q 2010. However, if the ST-2 satellite consists of only C- and Ku-band transponders, its uses for disaster relief and homeland security likely would be limited due to the requirement for large antenna dishes. ST-1 probably will hear its last transmission next year.
As an aside, other broadband satellites in the region that are used for homeland security and disaster relief purposes include Japan's Ka-Band KIZUNA satellite. Its high speed and large bandwidth enable "super high speed" internet-via-satellite, basically taking the WiFi capability one has a Starbucks and applying to a region as a whole. With a 45 centimeter antenna, internet downlink speeds of up to 155Mbps have been reported.