Magazine Satellite Tech Features

Always Connected

The need to be constantly connected while on the move is more important than ever. With the growth in data rates through HTS, change is heralded in the COTM space

HTS has augmented the available global capacity for satellite broadband, giving users more choice and flexibility to choose the service that best suits their needs. With the technology using a combination of small spot uplink and downlink beams to maximise the power sent down from the satellite into a smaller area and at the same time enable smaller terminals to transmit at higher data rates to the satellite, it looks like the COTM scene is set to be redefined for the foreseeable future.

Simon Hoey, Business Development, Global Government, Intelsat, says: “An on-board digital payload enables the satellite operator to offer the customer loop-back, mesh, broadcast or star network connections with any-to-any beam interconnection. In the case of the Intelsat EpicNG HTS fleet, the payloads also offer traditional widebeam Ku- and C-band coverage, which can be cross-connected to the HTS beams via the on-board digital payload. In this way, EpicNG enables existing networks to include COTM small disadvantaged terminals in a cost-effective and efficient way. The EpicNG platform is also backward compatible so that existing COTM utilising Ku-band will be able to leverage the higher performance of these HTS without changing out antennas.”

HTS will provide significantly more capacity at lower costs, dramatically improving the user experience and opening satellite connectivity to new industries and markets.

Kevin McCarthy, VP of Market Development at Newtec, says that since mobile VSAT terminals for COTM applications use steerable antennas, network operators can quickly roll out HTS capacity by simply repointing the antennas remotely.

With the changing scene in COTM, he says equipment needs have also transformed.

“The powerful spot beams created by HTS are one of the main catalysts for the requirement of new, modern VSAT platforms, creating a demand for more robust equipment and advanced transmission standards. The affordable flat panel antennas coming to the market will make mobile VSAT services viable for smaller vessels, airplanes and even cars.”

The spot-beam architecture and higher power of some HTS networks encourage smaller reflector dish sizes and therefore reduce the size and weight of the antenna, which is especially important for maritime users where space on board can be an issue.

Jens Ewerling, Director, Maritime Broadband, Cobham Satcom, says: “Overlapping spot beams and higher power essentially reduce the ‘edge of coverage’ effect under a satellite’s footprint, so 60cm antennas are now viable even for globally operating vessels. In real terms, ships can have smaller, lighter antennas installed and still experience link stability and performance close to that delivered by a larger antenna on older networks.”

“At Cobham, we have developed a new 60cm SAILOR platform. Large ships have the real estate on board for 1m antennas, but the development goal of our MSUA award-winning SAILOR 60 GX for Inmarsat Fleet Xpress and SAILOR 600 VSAT Ka currently for Telenor Satellite’s Thor 7 was not to replace antennas on those vessels. Instead, they introduce VSAT for vessel types that couldn’t install a 1m antenna due to space/weight restrictions or budget, in terms of capital expenditure and installation costs.”

In more mission-critical situations, like military and defence, data demand continues to increase significantly year after year in air, land and sea applications, with a variety of means to optimise throughput. These users operate in an environment with dynamic coalitions, complex interoperability and specific security needs, where access to processed and interpreted data is a force multiplier.

Darin Anderson, Director of International Business Development, ThinKom Solutions, says: “Although there are many tall dome or parabolic antenna systems for COTM in military and government applications, trends are moving to replace these high-visual signatures in the military environment. By reducing the profile, this allows for discretion in use and application without giving up performance. That is highly beneficial for such aero, land and maritime applications that can be pushed terrestrially with advances in LOS and NLOS terrestrial use in varying frequency bands to the war-fighter.”

“The AEHF satellite constellation cost way more than expected and strategic waveforms are too expensive, heavy and power-hungry for dismounted forces. Therefore, the DoD is working to deploy affordable, next-generation, protected SATCOM systems based on Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW). PTW provides low-cost communications for dismounted solders who have a critical need for secure anti-jam (AJ) and low-probability-of-intercept (LPI) satellite communications.”

According to Hoey, the key to successful operations is a short time from data collection to processing and then distribution to assets. All of this requires resilient communications systems.

He adds: “Satellite communications supports rapid decision-making, interoperability, big data sharing, ISR and C2 battle management. Commercial technology offers capabilities in information management which can apply to meet the growing demands for access to critical data. Intelsat’s new IntelsatOne Flex service will offer a global communications infrastructure enabling defence customers to respond rapidly to operational needs world-wide.”

McCarthy says significant geo-political shifts and numerous security issues facing nations worldwide have created a security situation unlike any other in recent memory. In order to meet these challenges, Newtec’s product portfolio has also had to be constantly evolving.

“The Newtec MDM9000 satellite modem, for example, provides double the throughput at maximum service availability compared to legacy systems. The relay of high-definition video and sensor data from bandwidth-hungry sensors on board Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms increases operational efficiency and enhances the decision-making process,” says McCarthy.

Aviation and Maritime

The aviation sector is more focused on antenna size and weight than any other vertical, and there have been some advances in this area. Broadband is now more readily available too, and there are general improvements in the availability of connectivity in both the cabin and the cockpit.

VOD (video on demand) and streaming on Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc, as well as the many social media data-hungry applications, seem to be fuelling the commercial interests, while others are looking to include remote viewing and monitoring in the cockpit and cabin, or pushing additional situational awareness streams to field operations.

“ThinKom advances in antenna technology for GoGo’s 2Ku offering brings 70Mbps to the plane today (100Mbps with HTS), and 2x to 4x this bandwidth in the near future,” claims Anderson.

“The key antenna improvement ThinKom employs to support world-class broadband mobile throughput is having high efficiency, broad tunable and instantaneous bandwidth, superior cross-pol discrimination and robust tracking. ThinKom initially introduced ground mobile products, which in many ways is more difficult than airborne applications, as the blockage issues are more frequent, requiring more complex algorithms, and dynamic agility requirements over rough terrain are more extreme,” continues Anderson.

One of ThinKom’s commercial successes has been the ThinSat 300 Ku-band satellite communication-on-the-move (SOTM) product. These systems are globally deployed to users such as broadcasters, emergency response and border patrol for surveillance applications, and routinely support 2-8Mbps of throughput operation on the move.

Hoey of Intelsat says: “Aero customers can operate their own networks on Intelsat EpicNG or customers can access IntelsatOne Flex managed services aimed at communications for in-transit, ISR and VIP users. As part of a development road map, Intelsat is working with hardware specialists towards a new service for the small business jet market, again leveraging the HTS capabilities of EpicNG and the IntelsatOne ground network to offer a more resilient network than is possible with a smaller fleet of satellites.”

Newtec’s McCarthy adds that its next-generation aero modems will support all the efficient waveforms available on the market today, including DVB-S2X and Newtec’s Mx-DMA technology, which also includes VL-SNR MODCODs. Together, DVB-S2X and Mx-DMA will deliver more than 50% more data using the same satellite capacity, greatly improving the speed of the service.

This is similar in the maritime market, where data rates and customer requirements for bandwidth are increasing, while the target price per Mbps is under pressure.

Forward-thinking ship owners understand that data and digitalisation can help them to operate more effectively in order to maximise profits. This community of ICT-savvy global players is leveraging the power of broadband to connect their huge fleets with each other and experts on shore.

“Much more data is being generated and transmitted back to internal digital platforms and, when used correctly, data produced by vessels and fleets can add tangible value to maritime operations. But it requires a reliable, always available IP connection to truly realise the power of data to maritime operations, which is why we have developed the world’s largest, most reliable multi-band communication network for maritime users. By integrating all available services and bands, we are providing the coverage where it’s needed and the throughput that’s required, at the right cost. Satcom is helping to revolutionise shipping. It is behind the creation of smart ships and will be the backbone of a future where unmanned ships are commonplace,” says Roger Harfouch, Regional Director ME, Marlink.

Ewerling says he is seeing changing needs in the COTM market for maritime, as shipping companies start to embrace digitalisation, and safer and more efficient vessel and fleet operations. Key to this is getting data off ships and back to shore, so it can be analysed and used to, for example, save fuel or improve logistics. This, in turn, is putting more focus on the uplink, which is one of the reasons Cobham Satcom recently introduced its new SAILOR 900 VSAT high-power antenna.

“SAILOR 900 VSAT High Power makes it easier and less costly to ensure high availability of service, as there is no need for additional hardware. It also delivers the potential for satcom service providers to deliver higher uplink bandwidths,” explains Ewerling.

Ewerling adds that even though the company is continuously developing its software-controlled antennas and VSAT technology platform, he is confident that stabilised antennas will continue to be the primary equipment used by ships and boats. Even though Cobham is monitoring the development by other parties of new flat panel antennas, based on its deep understanding of the physics involved, he is not yet convinced of their value for service providers and end users.

McCarthy thinks scale is the next big challenge for mobile VSAT operators.

“Networks are getting larger and bandwidth demand is growing exponentially. Dynamic bandwidth allocation schemes will need to be more efficient and scalable in order to sustain the next wave of growth,” he concludes.