Interference has always plagued the satellite industry. With evermore satellites being launched and more terminals coming to market, interference is threatening the industry. The only way to hit back is through proper training and machine learning, say industry experts.
With so many small sats coming onboard, there is going to be a strong issue of interference. The community needs to come together to start tackling this issue, before it becomes more difficult for operators and networks to function.
Jorge Ciccorossi, Engineer, Space Systems Coordination Division, Radiocommunications Bureau at the ITU, says:
“Certainly, when we see a number of systems coming to the RFI environment, we will address more of these cases. For the time being we are exploring this scenario and planning and participating in study groups, just to see how these compatibilities are possible and if they are possible in some cases, but we also need to think about collaboration. I’m sure the industry will bring about some solutions for this, either in the field of monitoring by perhaps deploying more stations for monitoring, or even from the state.
“We need something that can give us some assistance to how these systems are being operated, because it’s one thing to see it in theory and completely different on how we see it in practice, and we will certainly solve this problem, but it remains a challenge certainly.”
The most important challenge is not the systems properly coordinated by the ITU, but other projects like CubeSat projects – we need to follow them. They are inspiring and disrupting space services, but at the same time transforming the whole satellite ecosystem.
“Some of them are not using the appropriate frequency bands and might have found cheap technology in the market, thus we have to try to guide them to use the appropriate frequency and also notify the ITU to inform the satellite community that they are there. This is perhaps our biggest role, but they are very welcome and serve an important role in the space community,” explains Ciccorossi.
We need something that can give us some assistance to how these systems are being operated, because it’s one thing to see it in theory and completely different on how we see it in practice” Jorge Ciccorossi, Engineer, Space Systems Coordination Division, ITU
In some ways, the satellite industry is a victim of its own growth. The more terminals and satellites, the higher the number of instances of interference.
Andreas Voigt, Manager, Communications Systems, Eutelsat CSC, says: “From my point of view, a very clear definition of frequency areas which LEO, GEO and MEO satellites can use has to be adhered to. The problem with CubeSats using HAM radio frequency is for sure something that is problematic, because if there are more of them, the bands will not be too wide since there is no space to be extended for communication. When we have a look at LEO satellites or whatever we are going to have, we need strong protection and frequency usage where there are geostationary satellites and where there are LEO and MEO environments.
“We also need to protect services in GEO, and services which they are going to use in LEO. You will see more and more operators with a number of satellites who are not going to use these frequencies; however, the requirements for LEO operators is that they would like to have loads of frequencies available, which can then lead to issues for other operators, not mentioning as we all know 4G and 5G environments. So we need to be prepared for C-band and other frequencies to be more shared, and incident and problem management needs to be very aware of what’s going on.”
GVF as an organisation was initially approached by many operators to mitigate interference – this is why the organisation started its training services. It got collective instances on interference and then developed the training programme. As of now there is a bouquet of more than 30 modules online that can be purchased through a subscription, but more importantly there are people like Mazen Nasser, CEO, MenaNets and GVF Master Trainer, Middle East, who do hands-on training and give a more real experience to vendors and operators.
Nasser says: “The training is something GVF did because we saw there was a need in the market. It is a response, because we found that there is a lot of interference. There was a picture that came out a while ago where an installer was pointing the device to a satellite because he thought that it should be pointed to the satellite, and he was standing in front of it with the transmission on, and there were health risks on this person and when he found out he felt very bad. So through this we know there are sometimes people who think that they don’t need training, but it’s very important.
“We have been adding modules because we see there are gaps and needs in the market to fulfil, and we get those responses from satellite operators, network operators and end users, and when we started the programme we saw a lot of people coming to register. Through the training courses, we saw those gaps. When we offered them a choice of online training, people asked if there are any physical classes available. Online training is available in a few languages, but it’s not available in Arabic, so a lot of people who prefer the Arabic language prefer us to train in-class.
“This is what we are doing more of. We would like to see that the operators and users see that nobody can do any installations without them being trained and having a certification to do an install. It’s just like when you want to get your health checked, you go to a doctor, and you want to make sure that the doctor is capable of giving you a good check-up.”
Another thing GVF experienced was the elimination of type approvals. It saw that a lot of people were not using type approvals. Previously, all antennas had to be type-approved. However, nowadays people just use any antenna on the market – they buy whatever is cheapest.
“I would like to see type approvals coming back to the market. When it came to VSAT, just anything was okay. This has to change,” says Nasser.
Mostafa Fathi Abdalazem Alazab Elkhouly is a Research Fellow at Fraunhofer IIS. He thinks the main problem is getting type approval from various satellite operators.
“The main problem for getting type approval is that the manufacturer has to run behind was standing in front of it with the transmission on, and there were health risks on this person and when he found out he felt very bad. So through this we know there are sometimes people who think that they don’t need training, but it’s very important the different satellite operators to get approvals one after the other. This is very inefficient in terms of cost and time spent. He has to go through all the type approvals, which in a way are all similar. They need to go through all the same tests over and over, like the static test, measure the antenna pattern, dynamic tests where the antenna is put on some motion track to see the pointing performance and cross polarisation. They need to check if all this is in compliance with the regulations.
The main problem for getting type approval is that the manufacturer has to run behind the different satellite operators to get approvals one after the other” Mostafa Fathi Abdalazem Alazab Elkhouly, Research Fellow at Fraunhofer IIS
“This is the point where standardisation is very important, and GVF is working very actively in the way I see it. They try to get all the satellite operators together in a consensus where we need standardised type approval procedures. The operators know that this is very important, but the problem is everybody has their own business model and their own interests. I hope we can see standardised testing procedures in the near future. If we have both these components and we have a standardised global environment for testing SOTM terminals, soon you will find the stamp of type approval on each of the datasheets for the COTM terminals.”
Nasser believes cost is what everyone is worried about these days, and he says at the end of the day it always costs more to do things right.
The training is something GVF did because we saw there was a need in the market. It is a response, because we found that there is a lot of interference” Mazen Nasser, CEO, MenaNets and GVF Master Trainer, Middle East
“It seems that the satellite market has slipped away and forgotten about doing things better and hurt itself with interference. GVF stepped in and is now doing a lot of type approvals for the manufacturers. This is because of the cost, and we saw by not doing that people started to use non-approved antennas and non-approved equipment. By not doing this, they thought the manufacturer is reducing costs so they can sell more equipment, which in turn caused more problems and this costs us more in bandwidth. Eventually it is cost-effective to pay more to get a better quality installation.
“I don’t see the market realising this. I see installers are hungry for the training because they want to be better, but I don’t see they are doing it because people think that this way they’re saving money in the end for the end user. This is still not clear. We feel that there is a sickness out there but they don’t know what the medicine is.”
Voigt believes there are two parts to training – the first is training people, which has been done successfully for several years.
“People need to be trained whenever we are going to have fixed reserves in the field, to avoid satellite interference and whatever kind of human error can happen, whether cross polarisation or intermodulation, etc. However, we also need training for technology. We are going from 100% human-based technology to automated environments like phased array antennas, maritime and nautical solutions. Therefore, we also need training for the equipment. This training is done by Fraunhofer and other companies that are coming up. I believe the combination of both of these will then culminate with us reaching an environment where we can reduce incidents,” he explains.
Ciccorossi agrees that standardisation is definitely an issue.
The problem with cubesats using HAM radio frequency is for sure something that is problematic, because if there are more of them, the bands will not be too wide” Andreas Voigt, Manager, Communications Systems, Eutelsat CSC
“We already have some standards for antennas for fixed service and so on, but others can also contribute to the ITU in order to have measurement techniques and standardisation for these procedures. I’m sure these will be used in the future, and to have these type approvals is something that will be useful for the satellite community. The more people are trained, the better it is.”
In conclusion: as technology changes, we are also seeing new bands come to market. It started with C-band and then Ku-, followed by Ka-band. The same thing happens with training. GVF started with classroom-based training in the beginning, and effectiveness did not meet requirements. Then it structured classroom-based training, with modules delivered by industry veterans who will create the content and customise it for the audience over a couple of days. This is how it is now bridging the gap from field installation training to Earth stations. it to an online platform, which helped in reaching more people – today, more than 13,000 people are certified. However, GVF still finds gaps in the kind of training and solutions delivered.
GVF has recently launched completely customizable classroom-based training, with modules delivered by industry veterans who will create the content and customise it for the audience over a couple of days. This is how it is now bridging the gap from field installation training to Earth stations.