The idea for this article comes from a mainstream media satellite article; this article is not verbatim copy (not an exact copy). The article comments on SatixFy’s approach to addressing the dramatic reduction of satellite bandwidth cost on the ground.

At the SATELLITE 2017 Conference & Exhibition, the ambitious nature of the satellite industry shone through. Whether in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) or Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), all operators spoke of an optimistic future as they seek to gain new revenue streams and be relevant in an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) world.

However, satellites are only as good the technology which powers them, and more expectations are now placed on traditional Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology providers. VSAT suppliers are looking to provide the solutions which power next generation satellites. The questions: are they able to meet expectations? (reduce cost, size and power) and what do they have on their roadmaps? (what does the future look like) are buzzing all through the industry.

New Technology

The market is clearly at an inflection point and companies are readying for a busy future. The primary trends are clearly continuous increase of demand for data throughput, ever-reducing cost per bit, and enhanced end-user quality of experience (QoE). These requirements from operators are getting tougher to deliver and with good reason. As competition intensifies and the need to offer differentiated services increases, uniform technology is not the answer. Competition is no longer limited to satellite services, terrestrial wireless infrastructure is gaining market share as direct competitor. To successfully compete across the board, satellite services needs to offer low-cost solutions with the ability to tailor solutions for different end-user segments: mobile network operators, remote locations (IoT/IIoT) and various mobility emerging applications (UAV, maritime, autonomous vehicles).

The trend toward the data-centric environment is exciting almost irresistible to us technologists. Breaking the technology application there are two main categories:

  1. A collection of the data from a device to the data centers or cloud. The data volume in this case can be low at a device level, but there will be a large number of sites supporting mission-critical applications. (IoT, UAV, autonomous vehicles) Currently planning on thousands of “clients” per IoT terminal or node.
  2. Delivery of the data to end users. Video streaming and other entertainment-based personal information will be an important part of future content offering. We will deliver critical information for use by decision makers and/or analytical systems for industrial, business and government uses. The systems where information is originated from and delivered will be distributed widely, some at the edge where satellite connectivity is critical. This is a class of high bandwidth connectivity.

One industry leader is advising VSAT service providers to adopt network architectures traditionally associated with cellular providers, such as packet core as a framework. He believes there is significant value in aligning VSAT to the same methods and techniques wireless providers use. He advises to follow these terrestrial providers which have already optimized their networks for mobility. They also make it easier to deploy value-added services. “By adopting these techniques, VSAT takes advantage of all available mobility benefits. Plus, it enables clean interfaces, so VSAT is a simple “plug and play” to terrestrial mobility networks without integration challenges.” This means VSAT can embrace upcoming 5G architectures and standards introducing new synergies with wireless providers on the ground. So instead of the VSAT industry worrying about competition over 5G frequencies, VSAT becomes an essential extension of the 5G infrastructure, supporting telco reach to all the globe and offering unrivaled security capability (it is hard to “tap” a remote satellite beam).

Industry trade show buzz is focused on two big trends. The first is a move to the Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite – Second Generation Extension (DVB-S2X). The updated standard provides greater efficiencies, new features, and supports high Modulation Codes which take advantage of the higher power new satellites offer. The second trend is the expanded support for wideband systems using High Throughput Satellite (HTS, UHTS) architectures, supporting much higher data rate systems. The buzz over Beam Hopping is growing steadily (see  also blog posts #1, #2, #3)

Mobility

The satellite industry is entering into a more mobility-focused era, with particular emphasis on connected transportation, as the connected aircraft, ship, and car continue to grow. When looking at today’s mobile services in the aerospace and maritime space, networks are not setup to answer full customer demand effictively.

User experience in internet browsing and email / message connectivity on airplanes is currently a big industry challenge. In mobile environments antenna size and regulatory constraints often limit return-link data rates. Industry leaders believes the introduction of new small antenna technologies for land and sea, combined with high throughput capabilities, will drive more compelling mobile services.

Mobility is definitely a hot market with substantial growth ahead. “One trend we are excited to help drive is breakthrough innovation in the antenna industry, where next-generation electronically steered Flat Panel Antennas (FPAs) are becoming a reality.” noted Yoel Gat, SatixFy’s CEO. “These  will continue to make VSAT more affordable, easier to install and ultimately reduce the size and increase terminal agility. In the maritime sector, the competition between Ku- and Ka-band solutions is causing some to predict an increasing shift from L-band to VSAT.” More on this new development in future posts.

IoT

Satellite IoT communication systems connect remote sensors, controllers and local data aggregators to a cloud open system services. The system should provide two-way low data-rate communication via a satellite link for thousands of terminals. This addresses today’s demand for IoT services and fixed/mobile vertical markets.

Primarily, the system addresses connectivity for remote regions, under-served areas and specific situations where satellite communication links are a critical advantage. Satellite links in many IoT connectivity architectures increase resilience and security over and above wired or local wireless solutions. This is especially true in rural areas, where satellites can provide the missing cellular coverage to connect sensors and other entities to the internet. Areas such as agriculture, industrial control, water management, weather sensors, petrol and gas management are traditional applications. SatixFy is also looking for new applications in areas which communication can become a crucial advantage (extreme tourism, remote security, remote science and rescue).

Communication channel designed specifically for today’s IoT / M2M applications, to efficiently accommodate sensors’ low data rate and management messages (MQTT, TR-69, etc.) produced by IoT devices, is just now in the prototype stage. One of the primary market penetration challenges is the ability to provide low-cost. low power and compact design terminals with standardized IoT/M2M protocol format capability.

SatixFy’s revolutionizes the satellite IoT and M2M market resulting in a lowest cost, low-power and compact terminal product line. Designs for fixed and mobile services over Ku/Ka geostationary satellites is just now in the early prototype and qualification stage. The IoT target market is promising to become a strong next big development in the technology sector.

LEO / MEO / GEO

There is no doubt activity in the satellite industry has reached a fever pitch with ambitious satellite projects in different orbit categories. There are both large and diverse market developments for satellite bandwidth and connectivity to support satellite constellations in all of these orbit categories. Not all of the planned satellite constellations will make it to space. But even if a small portion will see deployment, we will drive growth for the entire industry. The rising tide raises all ships. But in this case, since the majority of the increase from these networks will be around IP data connectivity, and its growth will be implemented with Time-Division Multiple Access (TDMA)/VSAT networks, which will exacerbate the VSAT interference issue. It will also drive the need for enhancing VSAT network optimization tools.

Bandwidth demand continues to grow at an exponential rate and meeting this demand is primarily constrained by price. Providing these new constellations can deliver on their promise of dramatically higher speeds and lower cost, they should be viable projects. “The big question remains over the availability of low-cost electronically steerable terminals, which is the key ingredient to most LEO/MEO business models. It also becomes apparent the need for different satellite architectures to serve all the demand and markets most optimally, including GEO, MEO, and LEO” noted Yoel Gat. This situation is driving not only for complete products designed by SatixFy, but also for collaboration in bringing to market integrated services from other suppliers using SatixFy’s products.

The rise of LEO will accelerate LTE/LEO/MEO/GEO interoperability and will drive the need for a more standards-based approach and orchestration among all these technologies (i.e. dynamic-services, roaming, LTE/5G interoperability and orchestrating the management of mixed portfolios). With LEO as a new benchmark, satellites will be manufactured much more economically, become smaller, and support shorter life-cycles including the potential for disposable satellites. Launch costs will need to be reduced significantly. All these elements are driving innovation and investment globally not seen previously.

Nir Barkan, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at SatixfFy, believes the industry has room for multiple constellation orbits to provide answers to multiple use cases. “Companies are looking for innovative solutions to reduce the cost of satellites, launches and ground terminals. Much interest and capital are being invested in the satellite market in the last few years. There are more disruptive ideas and technologies. Technology vendors should use the most advanced technologies in silicon and adjacent wireless fields to serve the market with the most advanced solutions. These solutions will enable a decrease in cost and larger uptake of satellite equipment. Players not able to adapt to the changing environment will disappear, but as we have seen in other markets, new players will replace them.”

Technology Roadmaps

In technology we all want to know what is next. If we can’t predict the future, we at least want to know where people see demand in the future. All the leading industry suppliers are at the forefront of bringing new technologies to the market. There are some initiatives designed to meet future needs, including enhanced data analytics and machine learning capabilities, wider band solutions for all product lines, expansion of digitizing Intermediate Frequency (IF) applications, signal cancellation technology, and continued investment in intellectual property. This makes for many new technology developments which the satellite industry has not seen in the past. Essentially we see satellite technology being developed all over the world. In the past development was limited to only a few countries and mostly captured commercial contractors. This is changing dramatically all over the globe.

SatixFy designs its ASIC devices and builds complete end-user products based on these devices (i.e. Modems, antennas, terminal). The company is investing tens of millions of dollars in the development of new technologies and semiconductor devices to support next generation of modems, electronic steerable antennas, and satellite payload circuits (CubeSat). SatixFy is partnering with other companies to assure our solutions answer future needs. The company believes in intelligent solutions, rapid access to innovation whenever and wherever we can get access. The ultimate goal is to remove barriers to growth – be it network speed, operating cost or market viability. The company has pushed through a set of engineering challenges which aims to push ahead satellite capability today. Our hopes is to give our customers the capability to develop markets which traditionally were untouchable.