VHTS (Very High-Throughput Satellite)
MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Greetings from APSCC, the Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications Council, the pre-eminent regional association for the satellite and space industry. For many of our readers, this is your first issue of our quarterly publication, and welcome!
If you are not already a member, you’re receiving this because you have registered for our webinar series at www.apsccsat.com, and indicated that you are interested in remaining in contact. Starting last June, our webinars covered a whole range of subjects of interest to the industry, and if you registered for one, you have access to the full series, which is archived online. We will be starting a new set of webinars in January 2021, so be sure to sign up for that series as well and join us Tuesday mornings (Asia time) for updated programs.
And if you like what you see (or what you read here), and are interested in getting more involved with our activities and our Association, please feel free to visit our website at www.apscc.or.kr, or contact us for more information about membership or sponsorship, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month our magazine features the future of High and Very High Throughput Satellites (HTS & VHTS). These satellites gain their advantage over the wide beams of traditional Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) satellites through frequency reuse that is enabled by the use of multiple spot beams. This, in turn, produces significantly more satellite capacity and higher bandwidth for end users at substantially reduced cost per bit. We usually refer to GEO satellites with 500 Gbps or more capacity as VHTS Systems.
Mengti Guo, Senior Consultant at Euroconsult, estimates that total GEO HTS capacity supply is projected to grow from 1.9 Tbps in 2019 to 6.3 Tbps in 2024. More importantly, she notes that while a traditional wide-beam satellite would carry a cost base of $350-500/Mbps/month (factoring capital expenditures and lifetime), a GEO-HTS system typically costs ~$40-$20/Mbps/month. VHTS systems are expected to further reduce the cost base for capacity to below $4/Mbps/month!
Vaibhav Magow, AVP of Hughes, argues that the success of HTS satellite technology hinges just as much on what is on the ground, as what is put into orbit in space. He notes that ground systems need to be able to handle much larger forward channel sizes with increased decoding rates to accommodate 500MHz channels sizes. Return channel adaptive coding (ACM) not only can increase throughput efficiencies up to 30% but also enable enhanced rain fade mitigation which is critical in tropical areas. Most impressively, Vaibhav explains, the application of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that can now provide truly intelligent ground system technologies.
Vivek Suresh Prasad, Senior Analyst at NSR, predicts that cumulative capacity demand for VHTS GEOs for the period 2018-2028 will be 42.6Tbps. This translates to revenue opportunities in the consumer broadband VHTS segment of about $80B during this period. Best of all, Asia offers the largest market opportunity in the world with 234+ Million addressable households. And since many of these new markets can most affordably be served by VHTS connected to WiFi hotspots (rather than direct satellite-to-consumer services) our industry will be able to increase ARPU by two to three times for the same shared bandwidth allocation per site.
Vivek sounds a serious warning to operators of conventional wide-beam FSS capacity, which he says will become irrelevant for consumer broadband in the next 5 years, as it will not be able to compete will HTS & VHTS capacity. He also believes that ‘Wi-Fi Hotspots will likely generate the bulk of demand for Non-GEOs before consumer-affordable flat panel antennas are made readily available in the market.
Finally, we feature an interview with Alvaro Sanchez, CEO of Integrasys, who candidly discusses some of the challenges that VHTS systems must overcome, especially, targeting inaccuracy as a major source of interference, because the spot beams on VHTS satellites are so narrow and the margin for error equally so.
Let me end this note and 2020 by saying that in the face of Covid our hearts go out to everyone affected by it and hope that will you stay positive but test safe!
Happy New Year,
Are Very High-Throughput Satellite Systems New Game-Changers?
Mengti Guo, Senior Consultant, Euroconsult
Viasat announced the construction of three Viasat-3 (1000 Gbps each) satellites. Eutelsat ordered Konnect VHTS (500 Gbps) in 2018 and Hughes ordered Jupiter-3 (500 Gbps) in 2017. All these satellites with large capacity payloads will be arriving on the market over the next three years. These new VHTS systems are expected to reshape the competitive landscape in terms of scale, flexibility, cost, and coverage.
What are VHTS (Very high-throughput satellite) systems?
GEO satellites of more than 500 Gbps tend to be referred to as VHTS (Very High Throughput Satellite) system. VHTS systems are considered part of GEO HTS 3.0 together with next generation standardized flex satellites. VHTS systems employ multiple spot beam architectures that support large-scale frequency reuse and TDMA (Time-division multiple access). Hence, VHTS system can carry much larger capacity, higher flexibility with high-data-rate. The technology feature is specifically attractive to broadband applications such as consumer-grade internet access, enterprise networks, trunking/backhaul and mobility. In addition, VHTS systems can further reduce the cost per bit as compared to HTS and legacy capacity satellites.
Evolution of HTS systems
Source: Euroconsult research, 2020
What are the on-going VHTS projects?
Major VHTS systems under construction include Viasat-3 (Viasat), Jupiter-3 (Hughes) and Konnect VHTS (Eutelsat). Viasat is expected to bring terabits of capacity once Viasat-3 satellites are launched, including in the Asia Pacific region. Viasat is the largest GEO HTS capacity supplier today. The company currently operates three Ka-band GEO HTS systems, Wildblue-1, ViaSat-1 and Viasat-2, which primarily provide capacity for consumer broadband in the U.S. and aero inflight connectivity over North America and the transatlantic corridor. Viasat-3 will allow the operator to expand its business outside the Americas and achieve global coverage. To date, Viasat-3 APAC is the only VHTS system under construction with coverage over Asia Pacific.
Viasat’s commercial strategy and go-to-market plan in Asia Pacific has still to unfold. Nonetheless, we could expect Viasat to offer a satellite community Wi-Fi services in the Asia Pacific region, similar to its recent initiatives in Latin America. In addition, Viasat will likely target mobility verticals such as Aero IFC and potentially Maritime communication.
Table of on-going VHTS projects
*Manufacturing cost only. Launch cost is excluded.
What role will VHTS systems play in the coming years?
Total GEO HTS capacity supply is projected to grow from 1.9 Tbps in 2019 to 6.3 Tbps in 2024, following a 5-year CAGR of 27%. The five VHTS satellites are expected to represent 50% of the total GEO capacity supply in 2024.
Source: Euroconsult research “Satellite Connectivity and Video Market”,2020
As of today, major GEO-HTS satellites in the Asia Pacific region include NBN1A&1B, Kacific-1, GSAT-20, SES-12 and Inmarsat Global Xpress. The largest GEO satellite provides a capacity of fewer than 80 Gbps. Viasat-3 Asia will be the only VHTS system in Asia Pacific after it is launched and is expected to provide more than 40% of the total GEO HTS capacity in the Asia Pacific by 2024.
What difference VHTS systems can make in Asia Pacific?
In just a few years, HTS technology has led to much lower unit costs of capacity. While a typical regular satellite would carry a cost base of $350-500/Mbps/month (considering capital expenditures and useful lifetime), a GEO-HTS system would typically cost ~$40-$20/Mbps/month. Expected VHTS systems are poised to further bring down the cost base of capacity for operators to below $4/Mbps/month. Manufacturers have generally been able to offer higher volumes of capacity per satellite over time with asymmetrically lower increases in costs to operators, effectively translating into a structural driver of downwards pressure on capacity pricing. The increasing competitiveness of satellite infrastructure, with HTS and VHTS benefiting from a much lower break-even point than regular payloads, should allow operators to maintain decent returns on their investment, despite lower pricing.
Source: Euroconsult research “FSS Capacity Pricing Trends”, 2020
There are two main impacts anticipated in Asia Pacific. First, the cost base for satellite connectivity services will be significantly reduced. Currently, APAC has HTS satellites in Class-II which has an average cost base of >$20/Mbps/month. In the next three years, the cost base of capacity is expected to decrease five times with the arrival of VHTS system. As a result, the launch of VHTS system is expected to have a disruptive effect on capacity pricing conditions in broadband-oriented markets/applications.
Another impact area is expected to be a significant improvement in user experience. This is well illustrated in the consumer broadband service offering in the United States. The evolution of Viasat internet plans from 2017 to 2019 is based on information from Viasat’s website while 2021 data was estimated based on projections from the launch of Viasat-3. Advertized download speeds should improve to 100 Mbps and unlimited data plans are expected to allow up to 220 GB of effective data usage per subscriber. With the launch of VHTS satellites, end-users are provided with a larger data usage and higher download speed.
EVOLUTION OF AVERAGE MONTHLY USAGE FOR BROADBAND ACCESS
Source: Euroconsult research “Satellite Connectivity and Video Market”, 2020
In summary, VHTS systems are expected to add ~3.1 Tbps of sellable satellite capacity by 2024. This global increase of capacity will come with multiple strategic considerations, as it might pose a risk of oversupply and will increase competition between operators. Nevertheless, the introduction of VHTS should also open new market opportunities and potentially provide a step improvement in satellite user experience across the Asia Pacific region.
Mengti Guo is a senior consultant at Euroconsult. Her expertise lies in financial modeling, business strategic analysis, market assessment, competitive analysis etc. She has extensive experience in providing strategic consulting advice to satellite operators, financial institutions/investors, and space agencies globally. She is a key editor for multiple industry benchmark reports such as Satellite Connectivity and Video Markets Survey, FSS Operators: Benchmarks & Performance Review etc. Mengti holds two bachelor’s degrees in commerce and earned her master’s degree of economics from Concordia University in Canada.
VHTS Unlocking Demand Elasticity In Consumer Broadband Market?
Vivek Suresh Prasad, Senior Analyst, NSR
The Satcom Industry is transitioning rapidly from conventional wide beam transponders to spot beams with 100-200 Gbps order throughput to Very High Throughput Satellites (VHTS) with flexible beams, enhanced power efficiency and further raised throughputs. Major industry players are vectoring to the VHTS strategy targeting to improve their Satcom capacity economics and grow market addressability. Eutelsat Konnect VHTS with 500 Gbps throughput is expected to launch in 2021 offering high-speed internet services over Europe, Viasat-3 satellites with 1Tbps throughput each is expected to start deployment starting Q4 2021 – covering nearly the entire globe, targeting primarily the consumer broadband segment, Hughes/Echostar Jupiter-3 VHTS platform is now planned in 2022 – due to the manufacturing delays and Inmarsat planning to launch additional GX payloads over the coming years. There have been two clear trends in terms of the transition to VHTS solutions –
- Step change to achieve better capacity economics to address the consumer broadband markets, and
- Incremental change with greater focus on flexibility targeting mobility and enterprise markets. Undoubtedly, the prime market driver for the transition for most players, is the opportunity in the consumer market – owing to its massive size.
The Satcom industry is merely scratching the market surface in the consumer broadband segment with the global service penetration of only 0.63%. According to NSR’s VSAT and Broadband Satellite Markets, 18th edition report, the global addressable market for satellite Consumer Broadband is 433.7 Million households. The North America (NAM) region has the highest service penetration percentage at ~16%. However, despite offering the highest number of subscribers – greater than 84% of the addressable market is either unaddressed or under addressed. The penetration in the Latin American (LAM) region is growing rapidly from <1%, with new offers and innovative Hotspot models. This depicts years of opportunity even in the most mature (NAM) and developing (LAM) satellite Consumer Broadband market – and hence the key driver for Viasat-3 Americas and Jupiter-3 satellites. By addressable market, ASIA offers largest opportunity with 234+ Million households and hence will be the most contested/competitive region in the long term. Middle East and Africa (MEA) follows as the second largest opportunity in terms of addressable market. Levels of connectivity in the region are well below the indexes in any other part of the world. Innovative business models leveraging Wi-Fi Hotspots and VHTS solutions bringing down the service pricing are expected to unlock demand across MEA and other price sensitive regions.
The existing market average revenue per unit (ARPU) in the segment is close to $100. Clearly, the existing ARPU must move downwards to unlock a significant market potential in the segment. VHTS is most likely to be that gap filler in the market. Additionally, Wi-Fi-hotspots deployments are also getting traction in the industry as it ensures 2x-3x ARPU for the same bandwidth allocation per site. This is evident with the ongoing deployments by the Hughes-Facebook partnership. So, how do these upcoming VHTS solutions, business models and massive addressable market get translated into capacity demand and revenue opportunity?
NSR forecasts the cumulative capacity demand in the GEO-HTS segment for the period 2018-2028 to be 42.6 Tbps – primarily anticipated to be serviced by the upcoming VHTS platforms. The conventional wide beam FSS capacity will become irrelevant for the segment in the next 5 years – declining consistently, as it will not be able to compete with HTS & VHTS types of capacity. The major acceleration is expected to be post 2022 with the influx of VHTS capacity across regions unlocking the market potential resulting in rapid addition of new sites. Also, Internet usage across applications is rapidly increasing, and so is the Consumer Broadband segment. Video/streaming is the main driver for the increase in usage per site. Following the trend, service providers are also investing in services, offering connectivity at 25 Mbps-100 Mbps download speeds – through affordable pricing and business models. GEO-HTS (including VHTS) will be the best fit for the market, combining low capacity and terminal prices. Wi-Fi Hotspots will likely generate the bulk of demand for Non-GEOs before consumer affordable Flat Panel Antennas are made readily available in the market.
According to NSR’s VSAT and Broadband Satellite Markets, 18th edition report, the total service revenue opportunity in the consumer broadband segment is ~$80 billion, during 2018-2028. Increasing competition, falling capacity pricing, customers’ price sensitivity and pressure to unlock larger addressable markets will force service providers to keep margins in check. The positive for the service provider is the provisioning of VHTS capacity for Consumer Broadband as this will keep the cost of service in control. Despite challenges and constraints, the number of users is expected to increase rapidly during the forecast period – resulting in encouraging service revenue growth rates. The market is expected to grow at ~24% CAGR during 2018-2028. NAM continues and will continue to offer the healthiest ARPU growth as players focus on high-end segments – cumulating a total service revenue of ~$34 billion. LAM is starting to witness growth from entry-level offers and the region is expected to grow at CAGR 34%. Europe has one of the lowest prices per GB given high end-user expectations and competition from alternatives – hence lowest revenue market share at ~11%. Middle East/Africa (MEA) continues to be focused on high-end plans targeting mostly SMEs/SOHO subscribers. Asia sees extremely low prices per GB with government-sponsored programs. Owing to the massive addressable market, the MEA & ASIA regions are forecasted to grow at CAGR >40% during the 2018-2028 period.
“Unlimited” and “Soft/large data caps” are becoming popular across regions. While the peak traffic-offerings are limited, these plans usually offer unlimited off-peak usage or do not count Web browsing and critical Internet apps like email within data caps. But, has there been any change in these trends due to COVID19? How have end user behavior and service providers been impacted by the ongoing global health crisis?
Contrary to the most ongoing trends, the Consumer Broadband segment has been the most resilient to COVID19 and is witnessing growth in 2020. Service providers are witnessing a surge in data usage because of the increasing demand for high value data packages from existing subscribers. However, there has been challenges due to travel restrictions resulting to slowed installations, although the demand exists. Viasat added around 9,000 subscribers, totaling 599,000 subscribers in the US, in Q2 2020. But on the services at existing sites, the company witnessed an 18% rise in ARPU, averaging at US$ 99. Hughes witnessed a marginal rise in the number of subscribers owing to the growth in the LAM region from 267,000 subscribers in Q1 2020 to 321,000 subscribers in Q2 2020. The marginal overall rise is due to the reduction of the total number of subscribers in NAM from 1,249,000 in Q1 2020 to 1,221,000 in Q2 2020. On the equipment side, revenues dropped by ~40% in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2020. Also due to possible delays in the upcoming VHTS capacity, the growth is likely to be restricted during 2020-2021. On the Non-Geo side, Starlink has started deploying beta-connections at $100/month. The impact on the consumer broadband in the NAM region is likely to be significant. More challenges are expected in bringing pricing down for penetration into regions like LAM or Africa – given the higher cost of a greater number of gateways and expensive customer premise equipment for the constellation.
Although 2020 has been slow in terms of growth in the number of Consumer Broadband sites due to Covid19, NSR remains extremely positive about the segment’s accelerated growth with the influx of capacity from VHTS – especially post 2021-2022. Various business and value chain models are likely to drive the segment addressing challenges pertaining to market penetration – such as Wi-Fi hotspots (Example- Hughes-Facebook) generating higher ARPU for similar (Direct-to-Premises) bandwidth, vertically integrated companies offing VHTS based services (Example – Viasat, Hughes), service providers leveraging HTS/VHTS platforms (Example- Xplorenet), Satellite operators via downstream retail partners (Example- Avanti, Eutelsat) and others. Overall, the key to success in a region will be on availability of service and right pricing for the right market.
Hence, the bottom line is that with the massive addressable market, industry fundamental of more usage per site and influx of VHTS, the Consumer Broadband segment is on-track (possibly with some delays due to COVID19) to ramp-up revenue growth by five-fold and the capacity demand by eight+ fold during the period 2021-2028 – unlocking the demand elasticity for greater opportunity.
Vivek Suresh Prasad has been involved in the Space Industry since 2010, joining NSR in 2019. At NSR, he leads the research and consulting efforts covering Consumer Broadband, Enterprise VSAT and Aeronautical Satcom markets. Prior to NSR, he was leading the Frost & Sullivan Space Research Program as Industry Principal. At Frost & Sullivan, he has authored reports on market research topics encompassing Small-satellites, Mega-constellations, Enterprise broadband & Satellite Communication market and has led multiple client-centric consulting assignments including the UK Space Agency Spaceport business model. Prasad is an ex-ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) scientist and has worked in the System Integration Group of ISRO Satellite Centre Bangalore for 7 years (2010-2017).
The Future of Satellite Connectivity and the Opportunities of VHTS
Jean-Hubert Lenotte, Chief Strategy Officer, Eutelsat
Global Satellite operator, Eutelsat Communications, has a strong presence in APAC where it operates three satellites optimized for requirements in the region: EUTELSAT 70B providing regional and intercontinental connectivity for a wide range of satellite-based applications, EUTELSAT 174A offering a wide range of telecom and mobility services, and EUTELSAT 172B, is high-capacity satellite for fast-growing applications in Asia Pacific, including a specific payload dedicated to mobile connectivity, notably inflight and maritime, one of the future growth levers for the satellite industry.
Here, Chief Strategy Officer, Jean-Hubert Lenotte, discusses the future of satellite connectivity and the opportunities opening up thanks to increasing demand and evolving technologies
The current COVID crisis and its attendant impact on travel has, of course, had an immediate and severe impact on demand for mobile connectivity, particularly aero-mobility, where all operators have experienced temporary declines in the level of volume-related revenues. Maritime mobility on the other hand is holding up well, with the exception of the cruise and leisure segments, and continues to underpin demand. The timing of recovery in the aero market remains uncertain, but we are confident that it will see a resumption of growth in the medium term, with the restart of air travel and the ever increasing demand for high-quality internet access everywhere by passengers.
In the meantime, access on a global scale to high quality, reliable broadband is increasingly an essential service for consumers, enterprises and public services alike. The COVID crisis has further accelerated this trend; as it has rapidly established new norms for how people live, work and communicate, the need for broadband has become even more critical in enabling people to work from home, to continue to access education and other vital information, and simply, to remain in touch.
Artist impression of KONNECT VHTS (Credit: Thales Alenia Espace)
In this context, satellite is stepping in to fill the gap where terrestrial infrastructure is yet to go or is simply unable to go at a reasonable cost. Evolving technology means satellite connectivity can now provide a reliable, accessible and cost-effective solution for the millions of businesses and individuals throughout the world who are living on the wrong side of the digital divide. Eutelsat is among the world leaders in the provision of consumer broadband by satellite and along with Viasat and Hughes of the US, one of the few players that is meaningfully involved in this application globally.
Eutelsat Paris-Rambouillet (credit: Eutelsat-Adrien Daste 2018)
Eutelsat has been at the forefront of satellite broadband since 2010, and its KA-SAT satellite was the first ever high-throughput satellite predominantly addressing the delivery of fixed and mobile connectivity to thousands of homes beyond the range of terrestrial networks, at speeds comparable to ADSL. Eutelsat has since launched satellite broadband activities in Russia, Latin America and Africa.
Following extensive market research confirming the vast unmet demand for broadband via satellite, and supported by the twin-drivers of evolving technology and increasing demand for high-speed broadband – itself underpinned by widespread regulatory requirements to include internet access in the universal service obligations – Eutelsat has massively accelerated and increased its investment in satellite connectivity. It has procured two next-generation satellites: EUTELSAT KONNECT, a fully flexible HTS satellite, currently entering service, and KONNECT VHTS, a massive, state-of-the art very high throughput satellite to be launched at the end of 2021.
EUTELSAT KONNECT is has just entered service at the 7° East orbital position. Launched aboard an Ariane rocket on 16 January 2020, the availability of EUTELSAT KONNECT had been delayed due to Covid-related interruptions in the roll-out of the ground segment, but having now completed its testing, this much anticipated spacecraft is now operational and will gradually ramp up with 80% of the capacity in service by year-end and 100% by March 2021.
EUTELSAT KONNECT is an all-electric satellite, built by Thales Alenia Space, and the first to use Thales Alenia Space’s new Spacebus Neo platform. With 75 Gbps of capacity across a network of 65 spot-beams, it delivers significant resources for broadband services and sets a new benchmark for flexibility in High Throughput Satellites leading to optimized fill rates.
The coverage of EUTELSAT KONNECT will initially be split between Europe with circa 55% of the capacity focused on high-demand areas namely France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK, and Africa. The satellite will provide full or partial coverage to fifteen countries across Europe, targeting the 3% of European households who remain durably poorly connected to the internet, if at all. As an illustration of the potential of this service, Orange has already committed to a wholesale contract for the satellite’s entire capacity over mainland France, which it will distribute alongside its core fiber service in sparsely populated areas; discussions for similar agreements are underway with operators in other European countries.
EUTELSAT KONNECT will also address the very significant demand in Africa, where the development of terrestrial infrastructure is less advanced than in Europe, by providing the possibility of broadband connectivity across Sub-Saharan Africa. It will also allow users to access the Internet via public Wi-Fi hotspots, a service sold via coupons that can be paid on their mobile phones, maximizing ease of access.
The immediate opportunities are tangible: during the first lockdown, Eutelsat provided free broadband internet connection to isolation centers in several African countries leading to an effective coordination of medical services and improved care thanks to telemedicine. In the Democratic Republic of Congo Eutelsat has signed an agreement to connect 3,600 schools with high speed internet, with plans to roll out this service to thousands of more schools across the country.
At the end of 2021, Eutelsat will launch an even more powerful satellite to address the connectivity market: a next new generation Very High Throughput satellite named KONNECT VHTS embarking the most powerful on-board digital processor ever put in orbit, offering capacity allocation flexibility, optimal spectrum use, and progressive ground network deployment. Its 230 spot-beams and overall capacity of some 500 Gbps will provide two-way broadband connectivity across Europe and further afield. KONNECT VHTS will be a game changer, enabling Eutelsat to provide fiber-like connectivity to the end user at fiber-like pricing.
At Eutelsat, we believe that large-sized geostationary satellites like EUTELSAT KONNECT and KONNECT VHTS currently offer the best solution for mass-consumer market from a technological, economic and timing viewpoint. From a consumer point of view, the service brings the advantage of being operated with an inexpensive and energy-efficient flat panel antenna, compared with the more costly and energy-hungry terminals currently required to access by lower orbit constellations for example. From the point of view of the operator, the cost per sellable Gbps remains significantly lower than for alternative infrastructure, while the flexibility of the new generation HTS and VHTS spacecraft means that their capacity can be focused on areas of highest demand, thereby enhancing yield management.
Through our many years of experience, it has become evident that the effective deployment of the service is equally as important as having the most effective space assets. This includes rolling out gateways and terrestrial infrastructure, obtaining licenses and landing rights, and crucially developing a global go-to-market.
Eutelsat is well versed in the complexities not only of launching and operating Broadband satellites, but also the distribution of the service. Eutelsat has extensively trialled several distribution models, packages and pricing points across all the continents that it operates in and is expert in delivering satellite internet services to their intended audiences. We have a well-developed distribution strategy, built around retail distribution through for example Bigblu Broadband, our in-house retail distribution operation, wholesale, as for example in case of our recent contract with Orange in France, and through B-to-G agreements, where for example in the Democratic Republic of Congo we have signed an MOU for the connection of thousands of public schools . Eutelsat foresees very significant unmet demand for satellite broadband in the Asia-Pacific region, due to the geographical dispersion of its many populations, especially in rural and mountainous areas and remote islands. For APAC countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, made up of several thousands of islands, connectivity via satellite is largely the most cost effective and efficient solution. As well as this, the region’s ever-increasing climate challenges and frequent exposure to natural disasters, means that satellite is also the most reliable connectivity resource.
In 2019, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology selected the domestic satellite operator, Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), to deploy and operate a 150Gbps broadband satellite designed to connect government institutions. The selection of the VHTS technology by the government of Indonesia to provide broadband internet service to more than 149,400 unserved public service points, including schools, hospitals and local government locations demonstrates the relevance of satellite broadband.
Over the years, Eutelsat has developed the very specific and unique capabilities required to address the distinctive market of broadband via satellite, which include the ability to design the optimal end-to-end system, including space and ground segments, the ability to design and source the right terminals, the marketing capabilities to address the latent demand across sparsely populated areas spanning across thousands of kilometers and multiple countries, and the daily operation of the service, including flexible allocation of capacity that optimizes customer experience and maximizes yield.
Such capabilities are instrumental to the successful development of satellite broadband in APAC, and throughout the rest of the world.
Jean-Hubert Lenotte joined Eutelsat in September 2013, as the Group’s Director of Strategy, and became a member of the Executive Committee in 2016 as Director of Strategy and Strategic Marketing. In June 2019, he also took charge of the Deployment Department and is responsible for Eutelsat’s satellite fleet, frequency management, resource planning and innovation. This newly revamped department is now known as the Strategy and Resources Department. Jean-Hubert began his career at Bouygues where he was notably part of the project team that created Bouygues Telecom in 1994. He joined McKinsey & Company in Paris in 1997 and was elected Partner in 2004. In 2009, he headed the Consumer Service Line of McKinsey & Company in the global telecommunications, media and technology practice.
Next Generation Satellites Demand Advanced Ground Systems
Vaibhav Magow, Assistant Vice President, Hughes
As demand for broadband grows exponentially around the world, new technologies such as 5G and Low Earth Orbit satellites are generating much excitement and expectation for more capacity and faster connection speeds. At the same time, Geostationary (GEO) satellites are evolving, and operators are preparing to satisfy the global thirst for connectivity with a new generation of High-Throughput Satellites (HTS). These satellites promise reduced cost – owing to standard designs – and flexibility in the distribution of capacity that enables operators to accommodate changes in markets.
A key innovation on the spacecraft are flexible payloads able to move capacity and coverage from one geography to another to meet seasonal or otherwise fluctuating needs. As innovative and compelling as these in-orbit advances are, it’s important to consider their earth-bound counterparts. In fact, satellite ground systems are undergoing significant step-changes in order to enable satellites to do their part in helping sate the demand for connectivity.
Missoula Gateway (credit: Hughes)
Next Generation Satellites Take Flight
High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) already play a critical role in delivering broadband internet and cellular access via backhaul to help extend market reach and connect more people, especially in rural and remote areas where terrestrial connectivity is not available. Now, a growing population of Internet users, exploding number of devices and connections, and increasing consumption of multimedia and video are all contributing to exponential growth in global IP traffic. With demand continuing to grow, satellite operators are leveraging HTS technology to deliver higher speeds and more capacity to their target markets. This includes VHTS (Very High-Throughput Satellites) such as the Hughes JUPITER™ 3 satellite, Eutelsat Konnect and SES-17, as well as HTS such as PSN Nusantara Satu, Al Yah 3 and Kacific-1.
However, realizing all the benefits of next generation HTS systems depends on the corresponding ground systems keeping pace – and setting the course for the future. Advancements making this possible include increased efficiencies, return channel ACM, RFT redundancy and AI/ML implementations.
Some next generation satellites promise the capability to redeploy capacity over a large service area based on changes in demand. These changes in demand can be over the long term, as measured in a year, or over the short term, as measured in minutes or hours. Mobility applications in particular, such as aeronautical broadband, could benefit greatly from the ability to move capacity around in the short term. Consider the North Atlantic air corridor where, in the evening the flights move west to east and, in the day from east to west. Ground systems must be tightly integrated into the satellite resource management system to enable rapid reconfiguration of the satellite capacity to support this kind of flexibility.
2) Single Stream Forward Channels
Many HTS satellites can deliver more than 500 MHz of spectrum over a particular location. But limited channel capacity at the ground level inhibits connections, hindering the ability to offer higher speeds. The ideal use of 500 MHz forward channel is with a single carrier, which should enable more than 1.5 Gbps of capacity, assuming a modest sized remote antenna. Unfortunately, most ground systems are limited to a decoding rate of 800 Mbps or less; this means that the 1.5 Gbps of capacity is broken into multiple “streams.” The use of such multiple stream carriers reduces efficiency as the pool of capacity available to any one terminal is much smaller than the carrier itself. The latest ground systems enable higher decoding rates of more than 1 Gbps.
3) Applying ACM at the Return Channel
All major very small aperture terminal (VSAT) systems today support forward channel adaptive coding and modulation (ACM), leading to greater modulation and coding (MODCOD) optimization and significant bandwidth savings. With its benefits evident, industry operators hope to emulate the success of ACM at remote terminal return channels, as well.
Return channel ACM strengthens user experience and simplifies network operations, delivering efficiency gains of up to 30%. It also enables enhanced rain fade mitigation that helps to reduce operational disruption to the network. Together, forward and return channel ACM delivers the necessary ground system efficiencies for a well-rounded end-user experience.
Most proposed solutions to date come with barriers to true ACM return channel efficiencies. For example, some systems dynamically change the MODCOD for the entire return channel, but this penalizes all the remote terminals that are not in fade condition. Burst-to-burst ACM for TDMA return channels enables remote terminals to dynamically change transmitted MODCOD based on real-time gateway station feedback, supplying maximum bits per Hz (efficiency) while maintaining link availability. The result is higher efficiency and greatly simplified network planning.
4) Addressing Multi-Band Challenges with RFT Redundancy
One aspect of some HTS designs is to utilize alternate bands – such as Q- and V-band – to maximize bandwidth available for users in the primary band, such as Ka. But designing ground systems to support Q/V band communications presents technological challenges – most notably for hardware architecture and rain fade.
To support its new JUPITER 3 VHTS, Hughes is mitigating those challenges through an m:n redundancy scheme for the gateway radio frequency terminals (RFT) and the use of a private cloud in combination with software-defined networking (SDN) to simplify rapid traffic rerouting as gateway RFTs switch in and out of the network. Within the private cloud, network functions virtualization (NFV) technology will further reduce the hardware footprint and simplify operations.
To sidestep rain fade, Hughes applies machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). AI monitors the link between the satellite and the gateway (this is called “nowcasting”) to keep a constant eye on signal strength. If the AI detects enough attenuation to justify switching gateways, the system switches to another gateway in a matter of seconds before it affects users.
5) Integrating ML & AI
HTS-powered networks today include millions of remote terminals connected to hundreds of devices at each gateway station. Networks stand to expand even further as more HTS systems roll out, bringing with them an opportunity to translate the influx of data into actionable system insights. To achieve this requires truly intelligent ground system technology.
Operators are applying ML and AI to data collected from every node on the network — whether a remote or gateway – for network triage. For example, vast network deployments place pressure on FCAPS (fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security) network management systems. Through ML and AI, operators can identify remote terminals that are misaligned or develop moisture in the IFL (intra facility link) cable and promptly address the issue.
Hughes also integrates ML and AI into its business operations for a better customer experience. The team can now judge the quality of a VSAT installation, automatically, from photographs. The system “knows” through machine learning the ideal installation configuration and analyzes photos to assure quality and consistency.
JUPITER SOC (credit: Hughes)
Advancing Innovation on the Ground and in the Sky
Next generation HTS represents a giant leap in efficiency, flexibility and economics, but those capabilities are only valuable if operators can deliver the service. Ground systems continue to advance in lock step with their partners in the sky to ensure these new satellites deliver on their promises. The latest ground systems are engineered to enable the hallmarks of next generation HTS flexibility, power and speed.
The future of satellite technology hinges just as much on what is on the ground, as what is put into orbit in space. Satellite and ground technologies must advance simultaneously to serve the ever-expanding demand for reliable, fast connectivity and the explosion of data shared by people, enterprises and things.
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, Mr. 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. Mr. Magow holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Computer Science from the University of Pune.
Interview with Alvaro Sanchez, CEO, Integrasys
Maximising the opportunity of VHTS
Very High Throughput Satellites (VHTS) are here, and they bring with them the opportunity of better connectivity and bandwidth at a promisingly low cost. In spite of this, VHTS do not come without their challenges, whether it’s new considerations at deployment, the challenge of maintaining accurate operations, and detecting new types of interference. Solving these problems is key in order for the industry to truly maximise the opportunity of VHTS.
What does VHTS offer?
VHTS is the next generation of High-Throughput Satellite. It has been proven to deliver up to one terabyte of data and looks set to support a much wider breadth of consumer, commercial, and military applications. In some ways, VHTS could see satellite deliver services that are comparable to terrestrial. We could even see in-flight and on-board connectivity in maritime and aero markets which matches the quality of fiber connections.
The re-usual of spectrum and the increased capacity inevitably lowers the cost / bps, therefore enabling satellite to become much more competitive – something which is currently a huge worry for many in the satellite industry. Being able to offer multiple, heterogenous services is also a big draw in VHTS, meaning an operator could provide a variation of services to one geographical area, therefore further boosting cost-effectiveness and broadening commercial markets.
Alusat, the Unique Automated Network Maintenance System for minimizing the maintenance time, effort and interference intra-satellite or any service degradation (photo: Integrasys)
What could this increased capacity mean for the industry?
Increased capacity means that satellite is in a much stronger position to be able to meet the increased demand for bandwidth across the globe. More capacity and crucially at a lower cost will be key to enabling next-generation applications, such as IP delivery (using satellite to provide the bandwidth), 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
5G itself provides satellite with a huge opportunity to step into mainstream markets, which can act as an enabler of 5G in rural areas in particular. Working together, 5G and satellite could collaborate to extend the quality, reach and effectiveness of the services being delivered.
How does design and development differ from other services?
Determining the best setup for a VHTS network is significantly more complex. This also makes it difficult to calculate link budgets, which can be problematic when it comes to sales and offering customers a service which matches their needs.
When designing a VHTS network, there are a number of technical and commercial requirements, as well as compromises, which must be made in order to achieve the right solution when it comes to cost, capacity and the efficiency of the user terminal. The entire process is affected by whichever is the most appropriate modulation scheme, as this in turn affects the link budget conditions of the terminal.
In order to meet the requirements of the service provider, a number of system limitations must be defined; such as service area, the diameter of the antenna, and of course the initial investment cost. When all of this setup is defined, only then can accurate link budget calculations be made to determine which satellite and ground segment is the most appropriate for the use-case. This ensures that the satellite setup is able to meet the demands of the service, before the capacity is purchased.
If link budget calculations are done incorrectly an inappropriate satellite may be selected for a service, resulting in poor quality. Similarly, if an operator is unable to provide a calculation in the first place, a customer will just go to another that can.
By accurately deploying and designing VHTS networks, operators can correctly estimate link budgets, which ensures that stakeholders can understand and be confident in providers, thus increasing sales and customer satisfaction in satellite and VHTS on the whole.
Beam Budget Link Budget Calculation tool by Integrasys (photo: Integrasys)
VHTS uses multiple narrow spot beams, what impact does this have?
The reduction in the size of the beam requires even more accuracy at installation and indeed throughout operations. There are also more beams at play, meaning more chance of errors and interference. As such, there is a need to ensure there are fail-safe monitoring systems in place to ensure the beams do not mis-point at any stage. Mis-pointing errors are even more problematic in VHTS due to the increased frequencies, making interference detection key. Effective monitoring can play a crucial part, as can technology which can take mitigating actions on top of detection to help prevent incidences.
How can we tackle RF interference?
Inaccuracy is a major source of interference, especially as the spot beams in VHTS are so narrow and the margin for error equally so. The challenge of VHTS is that customers expect a low cost coupled with high quality services. As such, from the moment a VHTS service is deployed, monitoring and automation are key in order to manage the new, complex satellite environment. Automating the setup of VHTS services is ideal, as this can ensure inaccuracies are kept to an absolute minimum. If we’re constantly monitoring VHTS, even with the big scope for errors, it’s possible to quickly detect problems before they cause issues for the end-user, therefore keeping the quality of service (QoS) high.
Satmotion Pocket for the new Iphone12 (photo: Integrasys)
Is Rain Fade still an issue?
High Throughput Satellites (HTS) and VHTS are notoriously susceptible to rain fade which presents a huge challenge for those of us looking to make the most of it. Rain fade is a particular concern given the value of VHTS in rural, developing markets, which often face hostile climate conditions. There are fade mitigation techniques currently being developed in order to cope with this, but very few workable solutions look set to really solve it.
How do we effectively overcome these challenges to maximize the potential of VHTS?
Alongside monitoring with the right tools, we as an industry should be looking to new innovations and developing new solutions to ensure VHTS is a success. Problems such as rain fade and the challenge of designing efficient VHTS networks are surmountable, with the right combination of technologies and continued innovation. By doing so, we can ensure that we maximise the opportunities VHTS presents, especially for the new, next-generations applications such as 5G etc., and in developing broadband markets around the world.
Alvaro Sanchez is Integrasys CEO and Marquess of Antella. He studied Industrial and Computer Science Engineering in the European University and a Master in Sales and Marketing at ESIC. Alvaro has worked 10 years at Integrasys, being Sales and Marketing Director with tangible results in the revenue. Now Alvaro is Integrasys CEO and his main function is expanding the company.