04/03/202112 Minutes

Satellite Networks Solutions: Development & Evolution of Capability & Performance

Satellite technologies are evolving to provide solutions for an ever widening range of applications, from cellular backhaul, consumer broadband, disaster response, enterprise, the Internet of Things, managed services, rural connectivity, satcoms-on-the-move, and yet more as advances in capabilities power the emergence of new use cases. The shift in the nature, pace, and scale of the drivers of increased market demand for better performing satellite solutions, leveraging inter-related advances in space and ground segments, framed today’s overview of VSATs future evolution. In terms of the advance of technologies and of the development of applications for different markets, the dialogue considered if overall it is possible to think in terms of which comes first – the push driver/supply (e.g., the technology) or the pull driver/demand (e.g., the application).

Space segment change manifest in the emerging LEO megaconstellations and GEO VHTS, parallelled by advances in ground segment integral to new space segment success, was the substance of the moderator’s opening question, with particular reference to the implications of these trends for the panellists’ company technology development strategies/investments.

Is reference to the “VSAT” still relevant? This was the focus of questioning which addressed the apparently increasing trend away from looking at a satellite terminal as an integrated assembly of component parts to considering it “holistically”, related to improving the “user experience” and putting the “intelligence” in the terminal, and connected to this the panel discussed the nature and scope of any changes to how customers’ express their evolving solutions requirements, specified in the language of EIRP, and G/T, etc., or in terms of data rate throughput, cyber security, etc. The significance of software defined networking and its implications for the ground segment also featured here, as did the role of AI and ML in the ground segment, and terminal component virtualisation, described by one panellist as a “process”, not an “event”.

Two further main topics of the 60-minute dialogue were flat panel antennas with the panellists offering their perspectives on current and future states of play in this promising technology dynamic; and, the prime future opportunities for satellite in the 5G ecosystem as the “Network of Networks” reveals its ultimate fruition by leveraging true integration of cellular and satellite.

Across the GVF-Satellite Evolution webinar series some 10,000 people have now watched, and if you missed this live broadcast you can still join in by catching-up with today’s registered audience of around 330 from 70 countries by watching the recording here.

Q & A continued….

The following questions were posed through the chat function during the panel. Thank you to our audience for taking an active part by asking questions, and to our panellists for their time to answer them after the webinar ended…

1. How the new products deal with the satellite resources (space segment) sharing if we are using techniques like TDMA or dynamic FDMA in MEO system and handover process?

Tim Shroyer (CPI): Resource allocation even in a GEO environment has required careful control of frequency, MODCOD, uplink power levels, and time, whether TDMA or dynamically-allocated FDMA. Operating on MEO and LEO constellations adds the requirement to simultaneously manage the selection of with which satellite to communicate. We see this evolving as a Network Management function that will communicate with the terminal antenna and RF system, whether using electronic or mechanical beam steering. Some standards are already in place to facilitate this additional pointing and tracking command functionality and some systems are developing more customized solutions. The MEO solutions we have already implemented did an effective job of providing this functionality and we see that approach continuing.

Fred Morris (Comtech EF Data): TDMA has been tested on MEO, but the outcome has not been made public. Compared to a GEO implementation the burst time plan would have to be adjusted, probably expanding the acquisition windows in the process, so it may be less efficient from a top level view than an SCPC application. Depending on what type of FDMA is used there may be similar issues.


2. In a 5G “backhaul” context will there be possibility for most of the modem to be instantiated as a MEC function?

Tim Shroyer (CPI): This is more appropriately addressed by my colleagues on the panel. There continues to be a push towards virtualization and that will impact VSATs, HTS and VHTS User Terminals, along with Backhaul terminals. The ETSI MEC standards seem to be suggesting that the RAN can include the satellite connectivity so it appears that MEC should play a significant part.

Fred Morris (Comtech EF Data): It is possible to do some of this today. It depends on how much of the modem functions are required to be virtualized to be used in the Mobile Edge Computing devices.

Savyon Wasser (SpaceBridge): Probably not completely, but there are concepts for a standard terminal slotted chassis where one of the cards could be a modem. This was actually already tried in the past with limited commercial success but there’s no reason not to see this again.


3. What do you see as the major markets for electronically steerable flat panel antennas over the next 5 years?

Tim Shroyer (CPI): CPI Radant builds radomes for commercial aircraft and we are already seeing increasing numbers of electronically steerable flat panel antennas in the commercial air connectivity market. Most of those antennas are still mechanically steered right now but the move to electronically steered antennas is underway. Military /government users have expressed a significant desire for electronically steerable flat panel antennas and they have started procuring some, but they probably represent a smaller market than airborne mobility. Most of the Big LEO constellations seem to be considering a reasonably-priced electronically steerable flat panel antenna as essential to their business case. Some flat panel antenna designs appear to be closing in on a price/performance point that would be sufficient so we anticipate that will represent the biggest market soon.

Fred Morris (Comtech EF Data): Commercial and private aero markets if they come back from their Covid pause. If there is success in the technology and the prices start to drop they may make their way into Enterprise markets.

Savyon Wasser (SpaceBridge): I still see the high end aero, maritime as government as major markets for this time frame. By then we may start seeing the FPA start seeping into enterprise segments on LEO.


4. What share of “conventional satellites” users LEO/MEO market will “bite off” in next 2-3 years?

Tim Shroyer (CPI): There are some very interesting LEO and MEO systems coming to market which promise impressive data rates at aggressive prices. At the same time, HTS and VHTS systems are currently being fielded which offer the same or higher data rates with much simpler, less expensive User Terminals. We don’t see the market going all GEO or all LEO/MEO and see a place for all the different services. Depending upon the market segments being considered, the estimates can be very different. We have seen forecasts predicting that the Enterprise VSAT market will be about 20% non-GEO and the Backhaul market will be possibly 12% non-GEO in the next few years. Those forecasts seem reasonable but we will just have to wait and see.

Fred Morris (Comtech EF Data):If we look at the 2022 to 2023 timeframe, the two likely LEO operators at that time, OneWeb and Starlink, will have a good part of their initial constellations in place. SES mPower will also have some of their constellation operational in MEO then. Telesat Lightspeed will be launching their initial tranches of LEO satellites at that time. And, unless their plans are accelerated, Amazon Kuiper will be starting deployment in 2023/2024.
It will still be rather early to tell if substantial traffic is taken from GEO systems, moving to MEO or LEO at that time. If we are to believe some of what is being written, some of their traffic may have otherwise gone with terrestrial, and not GEO.

Savyon Wasser (SpaceBridge): MEO will probably continue to attract same segments as it does today, high end maritime and government and maybe others. With LEO it highly depends on the coverage, nature of the constellation and the satellite operator approach. Large operators may want to be agnostic and test the waters with multiple LEOs, and smaller ones may choose to wait and see how the landscape shapes up, unless they are there is a compelling case for them to take a dip. In general operators are very careful and conservative and the transition will be gradual.