SATELLITE GROUND SEGMENT INNOVATION
APSCC Q4 2019
MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Let me begin by thanking everyone who helped make our Bangkok Conference a success. Our next Conference will be in Manilla November 17-19, 2020.
This month our magazine is devoted to Satellite Ground Segment Innovation. Pacome Revillon, CEO of Euroconsult, notes that innovation begins at the technology level – for example, developing electronically steered antennas and software defined radios, as well as advanced modems. Secondly, there are innovation developments in the industrial processes, for example creating mass manufacturing processes. And finally, there is innovation in the business models, for example the offering of ground segment as a service.
Lluc Palerm-Serra, Senior Analyst, NSR, believes that 5G will profoundly drive improvements to our ground segment. Lluc explains that satellites will be able to serve all the new 5G market sectors, offering 5G operators both backhaul and trucking because of the resiliency and restoration capabilities of satellite infrastructure. For mobility, satellites offer ubiquity which cannot be matched by terrestrial networks. And for hybrid networks satellite has a natural role in IP Content Distribution.
But the biggest benefit of 5G for satellites is that it presents the opportunity to seamlessly integrate with terrestrial networks because the 5G standardization process, unlike the earlier processes for 4G and 3G etc, included satellite architecture from the start.
Vaibhav Magow, AVP, Hughes Network Systems, emphasizes the need for ground systems to deliver more throughput, by using the same spectrum more efficiently – more bits per Hertz. One way to achieve this is to incorporate lossless compression, as well as to “spoof” the protocol so that overhead messages are not transported across the space link. Another is to use higher order modulation on the physical link, combined with reduced spacing on the return channel.
David Burr, VP Comtech EF Data argues that over time all markets commoditize, and satellite communications is no exception – meaning that margins get squeezed. He believes that rather than ride prices to the bottom, smart satellite operators should differentiate themselves by bundling their capacity with ground equipment and offering managed services. Therefore, the choice of VSAT platform and how the service is constructed becomes the differentiator and the path to increased profitability and bandwidth sales.
David argues for Spectral Efficiency using Comtech EF Data’s proprietary Heights Dynamic Network Access (H-DNA) access method as combining the efficiency of Single Channel Per Carrier (SCPC) with the dynamic nature of Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). He offers a case study where H-DNA enables a capacity yield which is 73% higher than TDMA.
If you want to understand the tremendous innovations our colleagues are making in ground segment read on.
Finally, we would like to wish all of you and yours a wonderful, healthy and prosperous New Year and New Decade!
Ground Segment: A Critical Component of the Value Chain Occasionally Overlooked
Pacôme Révillon, CEO, Euroconsult
The ground segment, as broadly defined, is the critical link between earth and satellites. It represents a relatively large market which is often mistakenly overlooked when talking about innovation in satellite systems. However, satellite and ground systems work hand in hand and both constitute essential parts that need to be addressed when striving for optimized efficiency.
In general, we can separate the core network components (including the control centers, the network operation center (NOC) and gateways) from the user terminals, i.e. the last mile.
Considering the “core network”, our research report on the ground segment industry, entitled “Ground Segment Market Prospects: Forecasts to 2028”, estimates that more than 2,400 sites are currently active. These would include both commercial and government sites for satellite communications and earth observation. These nevertheless exclude around 13,000 that we estimate as having TV receive only antenna (TVROs) within the broadcast sector. Overall, over the past few years we have seen a tendency to consolidate some of the smaller legacy sites, and to consolidate antennas and assets in a number of the largest sites.
Considering user terminals for commercial satcom only, we currently estimate the number of terminals to be close to 5 million units.
This segment of the space ecosystem is currently in an expansion phase, driven by current technology shifts.
Innovation has been a permanent but accelerating process
Innovation is certainly not new to the ground segment industry. Improvements in modems and protocols have greatly contributed to the observed gains in the efficiency of satellite communications in the last twenty years. Taking this example of satellite modems, a new generation of solutions has been introduced to the market approximately every five years by the different market players.
There is however no doubt that the pace of innovation has accelerated, and that it further involves all the main components of the ground segment ecosystem including the baseband/modems, antennas, radiofrequency (RF) equipment, and the software layer to support satellite and ground operations.
The factors driving this innovation are the same as those impacting the entire satellite ecosystem. To name just a few, they include:
- Broadband connectivity, with the development of HTS systems and the increasing use of Ka-band, driving an increase in the number of gateways and the volume of traffic being carried,
- The advent of new constellation programs, both for connectivity, earth observation and IoT,
- Mobility, with specific requirements and constraints applying to this category of users,
- Pressure to benefit from smaller, more flexible and cost-effective solutions,
- A global trend seeing some consolidation and vertical integration in the operation and service layers of the satellite ecosystem.
Innovation is certainly firstly at the technology level. Naming just a few examples:
- Intense development efforts are being made around electronically steered antennas well suited to manage links between moving assets (either the end user or the satellites). While most solutions are still under development, partnerships between service companies and suppliers have intensified, and a first new set of products should arrive in the next two years. The challenge will be in the efficiency and price point of the different solutions, which will condition the addressable use cases,
- A higher focus is being put on Ka-band and the larger number of links to manage is resulting in new RF solutions being rolled out,
- Some of the most recent modems for satellite communication user terminals can now support up to 400Mbps, more than two times the performance of the former generation,
- Software innovation will cover different requirements, from space traffic management (STM) to the automation of resources and traffic over satellite networks, in particular over large satellite fleets.
Another axis of research and development, even if commercial solutions are not yet available, is the digitization of the baseband and RF parts of the transmission. For the baseband sub-segment, software defined radios may progressively become available in the first part of the next decade. For digital RF solutions, this may take some more time, with commercial solutions being more likely introduced in the course of the decade.
Innovation is also present in the industrial processes. Some of the new programs, in particular the new constellations, can require several dozens to hundreds of antennas that will have to be deployed in the near term. With regards to the new generation phased-array antennas, one of the challenges is to benefit from economies of scale through mass manufacturing processes.
Innovation can also be seen in business models. The most emblematic recent example is the development of new offerings of ground-segment-as a service, promoted for example by AWS for the earth observation segment. Admittedly, this type of concept has so far been promoted primarily for the earth observation segment, while the satellite communications segment has been working with a network of independent teleports and agreements for equipment hosting. While we consider that the industry will remain very hybrid – between sites owned and operated by satellite operators, independent ground stations and some more specialized service providers – changes in the topology of networks and in the use of the ground segment will favor the development of new offers and economic models.
While development efforts have been accelerating for a few years now, pressure was first put on the timeline by the deployment of new geostationary broadband satellite systems, but even more with the push of NGSO constellations to have an efficient ground segment in place before they start their commercial operations. At the same time, the promoters of those satellite programs, as well as certain service companies, have been eager to partner and financially support various start-up companies and development programs. Intelsat, SES, OneWeb and Gogo have been among the private organizations that have publicly disclosed partnerships with ground segment companies to support innovation. This comes as a complement to the continuous R&D programs supported by the space agencies and other government organizations to support the development of new capabilities.
Asian companies taking position
Ground segment suppliers based in Asia have taken initiatives to establish themselves in this new environment. One example is Intellian. This antenna manufacturer, established in Korea, introduced last year a tri-band multi-orbit VSAT antenna system operating in the C, Ku, and Ka-band. In parallel, the company announced in 2019 a partnership with the Oneweb constellation to build user terminals designed for enterprise networks, universal access and remote connectivity.
StarWin, a Chinese manufacturer of earth station and VSAT antennas, announced during the summer the upcoming release of a new flat panel for communications on the move. The company also announced that one of its flat panel solutions had successfully passed the tests required by the US regulator FCC.
New Radio Japan, a supplier of RF equipment for both satellite and terrestrial communications, introduced a set of new products earlier in the year.
Innovation has started to have a significant impact on demand dynamics and the ecosystem
One first dynamic that we observe is an increase in the volume of demand, as identified in our two-part research report on the ground segment market, “Ground Segment Market Prospects: Forecasts to 2028”, of which part 2 has just been released.
- For the “core network”, large programs including constellations should give a boost to the otherwise structural growth that we anticipate. The market value that we estimate at around $3B should increase to around $3.7B by 2022. Sales related to commercial satellite communications could increase at a growth rate close to double digits, and higher than the global average for the ground segment.
- For satcom user terminals, we estimate that the market could grow at up to 9% in the next five years to reach close to $2.6B. We expect the in-flight connectivity and enterprise segments to be the most dynamic over this time period.
While we then anticipate a potential market softening prior to new growth in the second part of the next decade, structural growth will be driven not only by new installations, but also for the largest part by the need to regularly upgrade the ground network. These potentially shorter upgrade cycles will correspond to the need to continuously optimize the cost of transmitting and delivering data.
Another trend that comes together with the accelerated innovation is a re-organization of the ecosystem, with two dynamics taking place in parallel:
- The push by a number of start-up companies to bring new solutions to the market, with just a few examples including Kymeta, Phasor, Isotropic, SatixFy etc.
- A consolidation of certain players to gain scale and address new industry requirements. One challenge, besides the need to maintain a continuous innovation roadmap, will be the need to maintain an extending portfolio of products in order to address customer requirements. One of the latest examples would be the acquisition of Satcom Technologies, the antenna systems business of General Dynamics, by CPI announced in August 2019. In October in the VSAT segment, ST Engineering closed the acquisition of Newtec that they had announced in March 2019. Earlier in the year, ETL Systems, a supplier of RF solutions, announced the acquisition of Atlantic Microwave.
Furthermore, a potential vertical integration could be observed over time. While the main trend in recent years was to see VSAT suppliers increasing their presence in the satellite connectivity service market, we could also see certain equipment suppliers eager to acquire new manufacturing capabilities in order to supply end-to-end systems.
Coming back to the fact that the ground segment will be a critical component to deliver the efficiency of end-to-end satellite solutions, and thus their relevance in the upcoming 5G information era, continuous incremental and breakthrough innovations will be required across the industry. The next three years will be critical for companies as they bring their concept into commercial offers, and for the emergence of new leaders for the different types of ground solutions.
Pacôme Révillon is CEO of the Euroconsult Group. Pacôme leads Euroconsult’s strategy and operations and consults with high-level clients, particularly in satellite communications and finance. Under his management, the company has experienced a continuous expansion internationally, and has strengthened its position as an international reference on the strategic, economic and financial aspects of telecommunications and space activities. Pacome holds a graduate engineering degree in Telecommunications & Space from SUPAERO and a Masters in Economics from DESIA.
5G Will Change It All
Lluc Palerm-Serra, Senior Analyst, NSR
While the satellite industry is living in a time of extraordinary innovations (software defined satellites, VHTS, NGSOs, etc.), none will be as transformative as 5G. There is a lot of hype around customer-facing 5G capabilities (ultra-fast speeds, latency, etc.), but the truth is that, for Satcom in the short-term, the biggest impact will be witnessed in the backend of the networks. Seamless Operations Support System/Business Support System (OSS/BSS) orchestration (including with terrestrial networks), virtualization, cloudification, network slicing, etc. are some of the concepts that will rapidly transpire that will in turn lead the satellite industry into leveraging 5G. The Ground Segment is at the core of this transformation and equipment as well as software providers have the responsibility to make Satcom 5G-ready.
The impact that 5G will exert over Satcom is currently underestimated. The impact of 5G goes well beyond the traditional cellular backhaul over satellite segment. Emerging use cases like mobility as well as future satellite functions such as video streaming multicast will benefit from incorporating the new 5G standard. The way networks are conceived as well as how capacity is procured will radically change in a 3GPP*-defined ecosystem. Obviously, the ground segment is at the core of this transition. The good news is that this effort will pay off as, according to NSR’s Commercial Satellite Ground Segment, 3rd Edition report, VSAT platforms will experience double-digit growth over the next decade. (*3GPP: The 3rd Generation Partnership Project)
The Role of Satcom in 5G
5G represents a step change in network performance requirements and many have questioned if satellite would be capable of meeting those specs. However, one needs to pay closer attention to the different categories of applications within 5G to better understand the role of satellite. For instance, some M2M devices can meet their missions with hours of latency and a few Kbps bursts, while autonomous vehicles will require ultralow latency. Use cases are grouped into 3 families: Enhanced Mobile Broadband, Massive Machine Type Communications, and Ultra-reliable & Low Latency Communications. Different applications will have different requirements and Satcom should focus on serving those use cases that are relevant for the industry.
The ultralow latency requirements have often been referenced as a challenge to the role of satellite in 5G. But the reality is that this requirement has little to do with backhaul as the ultralow latency applications will be solved at the edge without need for backhauling to the core, making satellite a viable solution. Another performance requirement cited is the 20 Gbps per connection peak traffic target. The truth is that IMT-2020 defines this objective for dense locations, but for wide area coverage zones where the target is 100 Mbps, which is totally within Satcom capabilities today.
Enhancement of key capabilities and use cases from IMT-Advanced to IMT-2020.
All in all, NSR expects 5G opportunities to be generated from 4 main pillars:
- Backhaul. Connecting stations into remote areas. An easier integration with Satcom could propel new types of architectures like resiliency, emergency response, quick deployment for special events, IoT or traffic offload.
- Trunking. Networks will need to reach further into remote areas and Satellite is the optimal solution in those cases. Again, resiliency and restoration generate growing levels of demand.
- Mobility. While 5G puts a lot of focus on connecting vehicles (cars, trains), there will be many instances where this would need to be complemented by Satellite. Satellite ubiquity can’t be matched by terrestrial networks. Those connected mobile platforms will benefit from a unified approach to connectivity.
- Hybrid Networks. Probably the newest application accelerated by 5G is the opportunity for Satellite to play a bigger role in IP Content Distribution. With capabilities moving to the edge, the explosion of OTT (Over The Top) services and the transition to higher quality Video, satellite will see the opportunity to multicast content to edge servers.
Satcom needs to leverage the transition to 5G to become much more than a solution for “rural connectivity”, which then opens a window of opportunity to become more relevant in terms of creating new use cases and being an integral part of Telco’s strategy.
Going Mainstream Through Service Orchestration
While the consumer-facing advances represented by 5G are highly publicized, perhaps the biggest short-term impact will be on the backend. Here is where satellite ground segment needs to put the biggest efforts to ensure that Satcom will be 5G-ready. Past mobile generations were conceived as close environments and satellite (and other adjacent technologies) had difficulties integrating with Mobile protocols. 5G is very different and it aims to be a “network of networks” including all connectivity solutions. Consequently, the biggest benefit of 5G for Satellite is that it opens the opportunity to seamlessly integrate with terrestrial networks.
5G standardizes service orchestration where processes involve designing, creating, and delivering an end-to-end service. An operator and a service provider adopting 5G protocols could configure and manage networks to support various types of services following standardized procedures. Satellite interoperable orchestration with terrestrial networks is nothing new. There are numerous deployments where satellite is used in conjunction with terrestrial solutions such as the case for cellular backhaul where satellite acts as a backup or for specific traffic profiles like multicast. The novelty or the value proposition is to make it standardized, automated and transparent to terrestrial networks, without requiring a custom solution for every deployment. Satellite needs to be integrable from a platform operation perspective (OSS/BSS) to make it very easy to adopt for mobile operators and to any connectivity provider.
Flexible satellites, cloudification and 5G
The satellite industry is experiencing fantastic innovations that are making it much more compelling. Software defined satellites, VHTS and NGSOs are just a few examples. To adapt to those evolutions, the ground segment needs to embrace virtualization and cloudification. Otherwise, it won’t be able to respond to new requirements such as the new scale of HTS, resource optimization in a flexible environment, or constantly changing network conditions (NGSOs).
5G includes extensive standardization on Software Defined Networks / Network Function Virtualization (SDN/NFV) concepts and the satellite industry would greatly benefit from adopting these 3GPP standards. For example, Satcom could leverage technologies developed in the 3GPP framework to be directly integrated. Another key concept is network slicing, where a specific service is hosted within a dedicated slice of the network with pre-defined characteristics, enhancing customer experience while optimizing resource utilization. Again, 5G also ensures streamlined integration of all these concepts with terrestrial networks, unlocking new use cases like hybrid networks.
How The Value Chain Will Be Transformed
The way the different steps of the value chain relate to each other (including synchronization with terrestrial) will radically change with 5G. The Ground Segment has a big role to play in this transition by adopting 5G standards. With standardized service orchestration and adoption of NFV/SDN, network operators and service providers can quickly and flexibly tailor their network services.
Roles related to 5G networks and network slicing management.
5G also means a new concept for procurement of network capabilities by Service Providers based on virtualized infrastructure (software-defined satellites and distributed ground segment). Obviously, the ground segment is at the core of this transformation. While this is an area where the industry still needs to put a lot of research & development (R&D), efforts like SES partnership with Kythera Space Solutions to develop a software system to dynamically synchronize space and ground resources show the future direction for the industry.
After years of hype, 5G is now a (partial) reality with the first set of standards published on 3GPP Release 15. Beyond the extravagant performances announced, 5G postulates a completely new way of conceiving networks. And here is where the key opportunity for satcom resides. If the industry plays its cards well, 5G opens the opportunity for satcom to seamlessly integrate with the mainstream telecom ecosystem.
While some of the performance requirements for 5G seem to disqualify satellite (latency, throughput), the reality is that satellite will be a key enabling technology in the 5G ecosystem. 5G will not only accelerate growth in traditional use cases like Backhaul and Trunking, but it has the potential to unlock new verticals like vehicle connectivity or Hybrid Networks.
Beyond the impact on applications, the biggest impact of 5G for Satcom in the short term will be on how networks are conceived. Here, equipment and software vendors hold the responsibility to make satellite integrable with 5G. From standardized service orchestration (OSS/BSS); to empowering software defined satellites, VHTS and NGSOs through virtualization; or transforming how services are defined and how the different steps of the value chain relate to each other, the implications of 5G for the satellite industry are of paramount importance where the industry can reinvent itself and tap into opportunities that could transform the industry’s fortunes and place in the overall telecom ecosystem over time.
Lluc Palerm-Serra joined NSR as an analyst in 2015. His primary areas of focus are Satellite Broadband and Ground Segment covering key growth areas such as new markets unlocked by HTS, opportunities opened by innovations in ground segment, how SatCom integrates in the telecom ecosystem, Enterprise VSAT, Consumer Broadband or Cellular Backhaul. He is the lead author for NSR’s VSAT and Broadband Satellite Markets (VBSM) report, industry’s unique Commercial Satellite Ground Segment (CSGS) report, and Wireless Backhaul via Satellite (WBS) report. Palerm regularly participates in consulting projects related to demand forecast for new satellite systems, new markets entry strategy or ground segment equipment and services demand for emerging opportunities among others.
Efficiency – The Midas Touch
David Burr, Vice President, Business Development, Comtech EF Data
Over time all markets commoditize, and satellite communications is no exception. New competitors enter the market, new ideas are copied, customers play suppliers off each other and margins get squeezed. Nowhere is this more obvious than for satellite operators in today’s market who find themselves at a crossroads.
On the one hand, you could choose to ride prices to the bottom. After all, people do buy commodities, often in high volume. The company with the lowest cost wins the largest market share, even if the margins are low. The problem is that few satellite operators think of themselves as cheap, so for most this is not a very attractive choice.
Many operators choose to differentiate themselves by adding value beyond basic MHz by bundling the raw capacity with equipment and offering some form of managed service. The choice of VSAT platform and how the service is constructed provides enough room for operators to differentiate and deliver a more attractive proposition to its customers. But what if they get it wrong and lose money, perhaps more than if they had stayed with just selling MHz? This is what makes many satellite operators hesitate from going down the road to managed services.
There are choices to be made and choosing wisely can make it much easier, which is especially important when you are just getting started with managed services. The key thing to start with is an efficient platform. Since satellite operators are in the core business of selling capacity, one would think that this would be the obvious starting point. However, it is surprising how many operators ignore this point when choosing their VSAT platform. It never pays to be wasteful with one’s core product, so having an efficient platform and understanding how to leverage it is key to successfully deploy managed services.
Start with Efficiency in Mind
At Comtech EF Data, efficiency is at the core of everything that we do. The vast majority of VSAT platforms today use a technology called Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) on the return link. In fact, so many VSAT platforms use TDMA that many people may not even be aware that alternatives exist. Comtech EF Data’s Heights Dynamic Network Access (H-DNA) is such an alternative technology and has the important benefit of being significantly more efficient than TDMA systems. H-DNA combines the efficiency of SCPC (Single Channel Per Carrier) – such as the use of high-performance coding with very low overhead – with the ability to respond to bandwidth changes on a sub-second basis. As shown in Figure 1, TDMA shares a carrier between sites by slicing it in time, SCPC assigns a separate continuous carrier to each site.
Figure 1 – Illustration of TDMA and SCPC
There are two fundamental resources in satellite networks – bandwidth and power – and efficiency improves the use of both. Spectral Efficiency, measured in bits per Hz, is a measure of how efficiently bandwidth is used. It is easy to understand the value of efficiency in lowering the cost of services. Satellite bandwidth is still the largest expense for most services and using less of it significantly reduces overall costs. Improving spectral efficiency is most valuable for high bandwidth applications such as 4G mobile backhaul and providing Internet to cruise ships.
Comtech EF Data’s proprietary H-DNA access method provides best in class performance by combining the efficiency of SCPC with the dynamic nature of TDMA. The key advantages are better Spectral Efficiency and better Terminal Efficiency.
Spectral Efficiency is a measure of the amount of data that can be transmitted in a given bandwidth and is measured in bits per Hz. Higher Spectral Efficiency minimizes the amount of satellite capacity that is required to support the required link data rate. TDMA divides the traffic into small bursts of traffic to be sent over the air. The small burst size limits the coding block size which reduces the effectiveness of error correction codes since more powerful error correction codes require larger blocks of data, larger than can fit into the small TDMA bursts. H-DNA is not constrained by such limited block sizes, so it can use longer more efficient coding. In addition, H-DNA supports many more different code rates that allow it to more precisely choose the optimum coding which reduces wasted power. As shown in Figure 2, these and other factors contribute to H-DNA providing higher spectral efficiency with 59% more bits per Hz than TDMA.
Figure 2 – Heights vs. TDMA Spectral Efficiency
Let’s examine how this advantage in spectral efficiency impacts the service profitability on an example service. Consider the case of a 4G mobile backhaul network with 30 sites requiring a CIR of 8 Mbps forward and 2 Mbps return. Table 3 below lists the relevant parameters of Modulation and Coding (MODCOD), overhead and Rain Fade Efficiency which is the advantage that true Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM) has over adaptive TDMA.
Table 3 – Return Link Capacity Yield Comparison
Both cases assume that the customer is paying $500/Mbps for the capacity portion of the service. When you sell at a given $/Mbps, a more efficient solution will yield a higher $/MHz and improve profitability. H-DNA enables a capacity yield of $1,300/MHz, 73% higher than the TDMA at $750/MHz. For many networks, this can mean the difference between making money and losing money.
The operator has a choice in how to leverage this advantage:
- Profitability – It might simply take this as higher profitability, helping claw back what was lost due to price compression and make the core business healthier.
- Volume – It might choose to pass some or all of this through to the customers in the form of lower prices in an effort to attract more customers and increase volume.
- Premium – It could choose to invest in additional features or services that can command a premium price, attract more customers and increases stickiness.
All these options to differentiate start with an efficient platform. Efficiency gives the operator room to pursue its chosen path of differentiation and how to create value in the market.
Enabling Digital Transformation
The highest profitability can be found in the high bandwidth sites in high value verticals. The most promising category of customers that fit this situation are those companies and industries that are undergoing Digital Transformation programs. Many companies and industries have realized that by adopting the latest information technologies – such as automation, Big Data, IoT, artificial intelligence, real-time collaboration – they can dramatically improve the performance of their core business and how quickly they can service their customers. Digital transformation projects are sweeping through a wide range of industries including oil and gas, mining, transportation, banking, manufacturing and others.
As companies undergo digital transformation programs, their bandwidth demand jumps dramatically. In addition, this additional bandwidth is used by programs that are delivering value directly to the core business, making them less sensitive to the cost of the capacity. Being able to respond quickly with upgrades to these customers with less pressure on capacity pricing is the ideal case for a satellite operator.
In most cases, these companies have existing VSAT platforms which are running out of steam and not able to keep up with the connectivity to feed their new business models. Efficiency can be the key to success here as well.
A measure of the efficient use of VSAT terminal power, Terminal Efficiency, relates to the data rate that can be uplinked from a particular terminal in bits-per Watt of amplifier power. Improving the Terminal Efficiency increases the data rate that can be uplinked from a given antenna and amplifier combination. Businesses that are going through digital transformation are consuming more bandwidth, and applications such as IoT and real-time collaboration are particularly heavy users of return link capacity. What do you do when your increasing data consumption hits the limit of your terminal? The traditional approach would be to swap in a higher power amplifier. The modem is probably running out of horsepower as well, so this probably just became a terminal replacement. A more elegant solution would be to keep the exiting antenna and amplifier and increase the Terminal Efficiency by changing to a more efficient VSAT platform and avoiding touching the amplifier at all.
The good news is that today it is possible to dramatically improve Terminal Efficiency and increase the return data rate without touching the amplifier. Compared to TDMA, Comtech EF Data’s H-DNA can increase the Terminal Efficiency by a factor of anywhere from 4x to 10x. Taking this approach not only saves the expense of replacing the amplifiers but makes for a quicker and simpler upgrade. This is tremendously valuable given the avalanche of increasing data going through so many industries driven by Digital Transformation.
Improving Spectral Efficiency also leads directly to improvements in Terminal Efficiency since each Hz needs to be transmitted by the terminal which requires power. Doubling the Spectral Efficiency in bits/Hz will also double the Terminal Efficiency in bits/Watt. Furthermore, TDMA divides the carrier into bursts which are shared across multiple sites. This necessitates a carrier size that must be large enough to support the traffic from all of the sites accessing that carrier. Figure 4 shows how these factors interact and shows an improvement of 7x by upgrading from TDMA to H-DNA.
Figure 4 – Heights vs TDMA Terminal Efficiency
There is a tremendous advantage with this approach to network upgrades:
- It reduces CapEx spend by reusing the existing RF
- It simplifies and accelerates the network upgrade by eliminating complexity
- It reduces the risk of damaging the outdoor equipment due to components breaking or stripping and eliminates the possibility of bad weather interfering with the install schedule
- It reduces the Total Cost of Ownership and improves the long-term profitability with higher spectral efficiently
The ability to dramatically improve the uplink ability of the terminal is a perfect solution for digital transformation projects which lead to a significant increase in data, especially data in the return direction from applications such as IoT and real time collaboration. Given the large number of industries going through this type of transformation, this approach is widely applicable.
With many satellite operators moving or contemplating the move to offering managed services, it is important to make efficiency an important part of the plan. Doing so:
- Provides dramatic improvements in the transponder yield which improves profitability
- Enables more price competitive services to reach larger numbers of customers
- Helps fund enhanced functionality providing the opportunity for further differentiation
- Enables Digital Transformation initiatives that are occurring in companies in a wide variety of industries
The best-in-class efficiency of Comtech EF Data’s Heights platform makes it the ideal choice for satellite operators looking to navigate the path to managed services. Efficiency provides a “Midas Touch”, improving everything that it touches.
David Burr is Vice President, Business Development for Comtech EF Data. He develops strategies to address maritime and satellite operator markets and is passionate about efficiency for satellite communications. Burr previously held Product Management, Sales Engineering and Project Management roles at SES, O3b, New Skies, Polarsat, Comstream and GTE. He holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.
Setting the Stage for the Interoperable Network of the Future
Vaibhav Magow, Associate Vice President, Asia-Pacific, Hughes
Recent innovations in ground network technologies are readying the satellite sector for the next evolution in connectivity.
As demand for broadband continues unabated around the world, new entrants are vying to “solve” the problem of connecting the unconnected, promising Internet service everywhere, for everyone. This is a noble goal, and a desire all of us in the communications industry share. After all, everyone deserves to be connected. Yet, the technology – not to mention the economics – has not caught up to the promise of connectivity for all. That said, recent innovations in ground segment technology are bringing the industry closer to realizing the full potential of a global, interoperable network, with satellite as the underpinning that “fills the gaps” in the networks and provides crucial layers of data transport.
Delivering More Capacity
In its 2019 Visual Network Index, Cisco predicts that IP traffic in Asia Pacific will reach 172.7 EB per month by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 32 percent. (As a point of reference, one exabyte is equal to one quintillion bytes – as if that is fathomable!) The bottom line is that demand is skyrocketing. The satellite industry has evolved to keep pace as best as possible given the finite orbital slots available. As an example, the SPACEWAY 3 satellite launched by Hughes in 2007 provided 10 Gbps. Ten years later, the JUPITER 2 (designated EchoStar XIX) satellite, provides 220 Gbps. And soon, JUPITER 3, under construction and slated to launch in 2021, will deliver more than 500 Gbps of capacity.
Low Earth Orbit and Medium Earth Orbit constellations have the potential to bring even more capacity to the mix. According to Researchandmarkets.com (March 27, 2019), the global supply of satellite capacity – including GEO, LEO and MEO constellations – will grow from 1.3 Tbps in 2017 to almost 10 Tbps by 2022 – an eight-fold increase in just five years.
One solution to delivering even more capacity from the same orbital slots is to use additional spectrum bands within the system. For example, the JUPITER 3 ground system will make use of Q-band and V-band for gateway feeder links along with Ka-band for user services. Using these bands for the gateway feeder links frees up more Ka-band capacity for user beams; it also enables larger capacity gateway stations. The higher frequency Q- and V-band links make for more challenging rain fade issues, but gateway diversity techniques make it possible to ensure reliable services for users.
Delivering More Throughput
When it comes to the ground system itself, continuous innovation enables operators to deliver more throughput to users, using the same spectrum more efficiently and with optimal performance. For instance, one way to eke more capacity through the ground system is to incorporate lossless compression as well as to “spoof” the protocol so that overhead messages are not transported across the space link.
Incorporating higher order modulation such as 8PSK (Phase Shift Keying) and 16APSK (Amplitude Phase Shift Keying) on the physical link also brings greater efficiencies with more bits per Hertz. The use of LDPC (low density parity check) forward error correction codes enables operators to achieve modem performance close to the Shannon theory – the theoretical maximum that can be transmitted over a channel. These techniques, combined with reduced spacing of the return channel, results in higher bandwidth efficiency and lower service cost for operators. Additional optimization enhancements include Layer 2 support, which enables operators to integrate satellite and terrestrial offerings, plus support for mobility roaming among JUPITER-equipped operators offering aero and maritime services.
With higher rate service plans — as high as 100 Mbps — it is critical that the channel rate be many multiples of the highest service plan otherwise the statistical multiplexing efficiency of the system will degrade significantly. Today, the industry’s most advanced VSATs utilize technology which enables a user terminal to decode more than 1 Gbps from a single DVB-S2X carrier and thereby avoid using time slicing, or “multi-stream” mode, common with many of the industry’s DVB-S2X implementations.
All these technological enhancements to the ground system are laying the foundation for interoperable networks that not only manage the delivery of Gbps but can interoperate among different types of capacity – interoperate with different satellite orbits such as GEO, MEO, LEO as well as with LTE or other terrestrial solutions. Harbingers of the interoperability to come are everywhere.
For instance, in the U.S., the military’s flexible modem interface (FMI) is a project undertaken by the Department of Defense to enable different satellite systems to deliver service over a single modem, building redundancy and resiliency in military SATCOM. Rather than a “single threaded” system with the ground network connecting to one operator’s satellites, the FMI enables connectivity across a variety of operators’ satellites – bringing obvious benefits to the military and a transportable model for commercial applications.
The aeronautical market also exemplifies interoperable applications. Aero mobility roaming across satellites ensures a consistent gate-to-gate signal for onboard customer Wi-Fi and flight operations. Roaming between satellites is one requirement; recent innovations enable roaming among JUPITER-equipped operators anywhere in the world.
A recent in-flight demonstration by SES and Thales using a Thinkom antenna and the JUPITER Aero System and ModMan (modem manager) showcased an even greater level of interoperability: switching the signal seamlessly between GEO and MEO satellites as well as among different beams in the same satellite. The demonstration included the simultaneous use of several applications, ranging from streaming video to game playing to social media – all in the air. And the demonstration also featured throughput rates of 265 Mbps to a small aero antenna!
Closer to the ground, terminals such as the Hughes HT2000L use artificial intelligence to switch seamlessly between satellite and LTE signals, depending on the type of data being transmitted. It is not hard to imagine that type of interconnectivity among any combination of transports.
Signs of What’s to Come
The Cisco Visual Network Index predicts that by 2022, 62% of the population in the Asia Pacific region will use the Internet (up from 41% in 2017). That’s more than two and a half billion users in APAC alone. The same study estimates 13.1 billion networked devices/connections by 2022. Logistically, there is no single transport that can deliver the connectivity demanded by that level of proliferation. As more capacity is deployed – whether fiber, GEO, NGSO, LTE or 5G – more ground system innovation will need to be implemented to deliver the connected experience of the future.
Vaibhav Magow is Associate Vice President and heads the Asia/Pacific region for the International Division at Hughes Network Systems, LLC (HUGHES). A satellite professional with over 24 years of experience, Magow has worked in different roles including Enterprise Sales, Product Development, Services Marketing, Business Planning, Digital Services, Franchising, and Service Retailing. He worked in the Indian satellite market for 11 years with Hughes Communications India, Ltd. (HCIL) assisting HCIL in maintaining its market share and now has been leading Hughes teams in the Asia/Pacific region for the past 9 years. Magow holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Computer Science from the University of Pune.