“While undersea cables continue to extend throughout the oceans and on land, the satellite remains an essential supplementary technology.”
Satellite is used to broadcast television programmes, connect telephone calls, view videos, and much more. Teleports serve as a gateway to wired networks. They send and receive information of all forms to and from satellites orbiting the planet. Every day, thousands of telecommunications and gigabits pass through Bercenay, one of the largest teleports in Europe. The site has over thirty antennas, three of which measure over thirty metres in height. The teleport is connected to the terrestrial “backbone” that is made up of IP networks (IP VPN, OTI, etc.) and uses satellite to connect to sites that are distant and/or isolated from the network. Bercenay does not cover the entire globe: its range extends from the coast of Brazil on one side to India on the other. Therefore, in order to offer a global coverage to its customers, the Orange teleport is connected to partner teleports in the United States, Germany, Australia and South Korea.
When Orange operated satellites
Véronique Disdet is the head of Orange’s Satellite Factory, whose mission is to provide satellite communication solutions to internal and external customers. Naturally, the teleport is a key element. How did Orange succeed in developing a site of this magnitude and become a major player in Europe? Véronique explains: “Forty years ago, France Télécom was working with the French army on a major project to establish telecommunications connections with the French Overseas Departments and Territories, at a time when there were no undersea cables. This is how the Bercenay-en-Othe Teleport came into existence. Initially, it consisted of a handful of antennas used to transmit voice calls, which were analogue at the time.” This was also when Orange became a satellite operator: operating three satellites as part of the “Télécom 1” project, and four others for “Télécom 2” a few years later. The last of these satellites was decommissioned in 2012.
From analog telephone to all IP, a technological evolution
Today, Orange buys capacity, in other words frequency bands, from specialist suppliers such as Intelsat in the United States and Eutelsat in France – two major players in the satellite market. Orange then uses these frequency bands to transmit telecommunications, turning megahertz to megabits in the process! The days of the analogue telephone are long gone. Today, everything from sounds to images can be transmitted via the same IP networks used by the global internet. In order to fulfil these new uses and communicate with these new networks, the Bercenay Teleport has upgraded its equipment. It has also extended its offering: the teleport, which was historically only used for domestic needs, has undergone significant expansion.
What is Bercenay teleport for today?
Except for Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, the French Overseas Departments and Territories are now sufficiently connected via cables and no longer have the same need for satellite communications. However, many other areas still require coverage: “Orange is making significant investments in Africa, particularly in landlocked countries that lack access to undersea cables or proper domestic connectivity. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Niger and elsewhere, Orange offers affiliated operators solutions for connecting territories.”
Banking networks also consider satellites to be a more reliable means of carrying out transactions. Orange Business Services, the arm of Orange devoted to businesses, uses the Bercenay Teleport to offer satellite services to multiple customers. NGOs and businesses use them in refugee camps, on isolated drilling sites and even on ships at sea. Government ministries, who see them as a solution to their need for varied and secure connections, also use them as a backup system.
The future is studded with satellites
“While undersea cables continue to extend throughout the oceans and on land, the satellite remains an essential supplementary technology, as there will always be poorly-served areas and situations and contexts in which they are more effective.”
In Africa, Orange is pursuing an ambitious strategy to reduce the digital divide in rural areas, working with local suppliers to create “WiFi hotspots” in villages using satellite connections. “Today, more than ever before, satellite communications are a driving force for the future. Proof of this comes in the shape of two constellation projects, launched in parallel by OneWeb and SpaceX.” Their aim? To launch a myriad of small satellites into orbit in order to provide global coverage at a more competitive rate. As long as there are satellites in the air, ground infrastructure will be both necessary and essential for receiving and sending signals throughout the global network. For the Bercenay Teleport, there are exciting days ahead.