This category covers establishments primarily engaged in furnishing communications services not elsewhere classified. Examples of such services include radar station operation, radio broadcasting operated by taxicab companies, satellite earth stations, satellite or missile tracking stations operated on a contract basis, and tracking missiles by telemetry and photography on a contract basis. Establishments primarily engaged in providing online information services on a contract or fee basis are classified in SIC 7375: Information Retrieval Services.
Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications
Because of an increased interest in communications technologies and information transmission, satellite systems have been driving growth and commanding high visibility in SIC 4899: Communications Services, Not Elsewhere Classified. Difficult economic times and a weak telecommunications market had a negative impact on the industry during the early 2000s. Continued expansion depends on increased demand for services to small mobile satellite terminals and telephones, the need for more television relay services, expansion of the Internet, and the growth of direct television broadcasting via high-powered satellites. By the early 2000s, many weather, communications, and remote-sensing satellites were in operation, along with a number of multiple-satellite systems.
Commercial space launches, satellite communications goods and services, and satellite remote sensing are the major segments of this industry and provide the bulk of its revenue. Voice and data communications, mobile services, vehicle tracking and navigation, and broadband data transmission for the Internet are growing segments. Beginning with its inception in the 1960s, this industry has been the realm of government agencies, the military, and international consortia. In recent years, however, new technologies and increased privatization have resulted in new applications for satellite services and earth stations.
Communications satellites allow the exchange of live television programs and news and sports events—such as the Olympics—between nations and continents. Linking earth stations located in more than 50 countries carry international telephone services. Communications satellites transmit signals via microwaves, which are very short radio waves sent from or received by bowl-shaped reflectors or from antennas. Earth-based (terrestrial) systems send out extremely high frequency signals from transmitters to repeater stations and back to receivers. The waves form narrow beams, which travel in straight lines. For this reason, receivers must be located within line of sight of one another and usually are placed on towers. Transoceanic microwave systems became feasible with the advent of satellite technology.
Satellite systems work in much the same way as terrestrial systems, except that the signals are relayed from an earth station to an orbiting satellite. The equipment aboard the satellite receives these signals, amplifies them, and rebroadcasts them to another earth station. Satellites are better suited for long-haul, single-to-multipoint transmissions than are terrestrial systems, because they are not susceptible to being blocked by geographical obstructions. Satellites also are preferable for reaching regions where the cost of laying cable would be prohibitive. Their large bandwidth accommodates a variety of video and data transmissions. Compared to terrestrial systems, satellite systems have the disadvantages of echo, less signal security, and a slight transmission delay, which varies according to the altitude of the satellite.
As a transmission technology, communications satellites also compete with fiber-optic cables because both systems transmit data. Over time, the cost of transmitting information via satellite has become almost as low as the cost of transmitting via land. It is unlikely that one technology will win out over the other, because each has its advantages. In fact, a study done by COMSAT Corp. showed that cable and satellite technologies complement one another in many respects.
The satellites considered to be the most competitive alternatives to cable are Ku-band, beam-hopping, multibeam satellites. These conserve energy by allowing simultaneous switching among beams. Other cable competitors are C-band, fixed multibeam satellites that use a series of beams but do not permit rapid switching between them. The beam-hopping, multibeam system costs an estimated 27 percent less than cable, whereas the fixed multibeam is estimated to cost nearly half as much as cable.
The part of a communications satellite that is "for sale" is the transponder, which broadcasts signals. Transponders are transmitter/receiver devices. Early satellites had single transponders, but by the 1990s some satellites had as many as a dozen or more (leased full-time or occasionally). The cost of leasing varies, depending on variables such as the time of day, frequency, power, duration of lease contract, orbital position, and type of satellite. In recent years, the rate for domestic analog C-band channels ranged from $200 to $600 per hour, or $55,000 to $230,000 per month. Leasing a higher frequency, Ku-band transponder ranged between $250 to $800 per hour, or $150,000 to $210,000 per month.
Fixed satellite services (FSS), which include fixed broadcasting, data transmission, and...