The satellite industry’s ‘flying car’ is finally making its way down the production line writes Drew Klein, director of international business development, C-COM Satellite Systems.
Imagine a small, mobile VSAT antenna system that can deliver 8Mbps up and 20Mbps down using only a 3W BUC (block upconverter). Now imagine that while the hardware costs for this product are comparable to existing Ku-band antennas, the bandwidth costs are only a fraction of what they are today. Welcome to the future: The future of Ka-band technology.
In 1999, Irving Goldstein wrote in The Future of the Electronic Marketplace that “the first global broadband Ka-band systems are not expected to be operational until 2001 or 2002”. It seems that Ka has been the future for a long time. The article envisioned Ka-band satellites to be conceptually similar to the ‘flying car’ imagery of the 1950’s, a mind-blowing change in technology which would literally transform the game. Similar to the ‘winged-machine’ visions from the past, there didn’t appear to be any serious progress materialising in the highfrequency band of Ka.
A few years ago, however, Telesat, Wildblue and Spaceway in North America began offering Ka services for residential customers, but there had been little deployable advancement in the commercial sector – until now. The revolution has really begun this decade, starting with KA-SAT’s launch in December 2010 – a single satellite with 38 times the capacity of a standard Ku-band satellite. In October 2011, Viasat-1 was launched with 140Gbps of data capacity, more than all the satellites covering North America combined. ViaSat-1 in North America, like KA-SAT in Europe, is capable of two-way communications with small dish antennas at higher speeds and a lower cost-per-bit than any satellite before.
With the upcoming launches of Yahsat 1-B in April for the MENA region, and several other Ka-birds expected in space between now and 2015, including Inmarsat’s Global Express, it is clear that the satellite industry’s ‘flying car’ is finally making its way down the production line. One of the biggest technical limitations would be the rain-fade factor. In some regions around the globe, Ka-band may not be acceptable due the high number of days where rain and heavy downpours are present. Critical applications demanding high service availability may never accept lower than 99.99% link quality and availability. In many cases, it’s those critical applications that drive the expansion of new technologies. Technological advancements like DVB-S2 with ACM are making rain fade a less likely issue for Ka users, and further advancement is likely to eliminate these problems all together.
C-COM, for instance, is in the final stages of completing certification for its new generation auto-pointing Ka-band antenna systems for commercial use in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As cost of bandwidth drops over time, more and more users will be attracted to use satellites instead of land-based communication systems, especially for disaster recovery and other factors (political and economical). Low bandwidth costs will attract new market verticals including mobile applications and maritime. Later in 2012, C-COM is expected to roll out a number of different Ka related products for alternate market verticals. We are now in an age where satellite broadband has become economical for almost everyone. In the commercial world, this couldn’t come any sooner, as the benefits of using Ka, even just as a stopgap to remove some strain from existing Ku-band networks, are significant. Smaller antennas, lower power requirements, greater bandwidth at a lower price – all point to a revolution in the satellite broadband industry.