5G Interviews Tech Features

Interference, 5G and more from Satcoms Innovation Group

Satcoms Innovation Group (SIG) recently appointed Helen Weedon as MD. In a chat with SatellitePro ME, Weedon discusses interference, 5G and other trends that are now part of SIG’s remit.

Satcoms Innovation Group (SIG), formerly known as the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (SIRG), was initially formed to address the issue of interference, raise awareness and give the industry the means and processes to tackle it. SIRG was known for spearheading several initiatives, most notably around carrier ID.

More recently, the group rebranded as SIG because interference is mostly under control and other technical challenges required the organisation’s dedication and focus. With three directors, seven full-term members, 20 associates and three academicians, the group aims to stay focussed on the technical concerns within the satellite industry.

Helen Weedon is no stranger to the satellite world. Apart from having been with SIG since 2011, where she has helped develop and implement membership and public relations strategies for the group, she has also worked with several satellite companies on their public relations activities. Her new remit, however, is to run and grow SIG as well as plan its events and initiatives.

“In my role at SIG, I am supported by an excellent team of directors who are able to advise on a more technical level and update me on the challenges they are facing which we should address. It is important that the group keeps its focus on bringing together the technical operatives to solve challenges and promote innovation. It is my job to make that happen,” Weedon tells SatellitePro ME.

Former MD Martin Coleman helped drive the group forward and created “a unique technical forum for the satellite industry … I would like to build on his momentum and enthusiasm to make SIG an invaluable resource for the industry, an incubator of innovation, and the group that the entire industry sees value in joining”, she adds.

As a member of the small but growing group of women in the satellite industry, Weedon feels it is important to get “in front of aspiring satellite professionals at a young age to encourage them, both boys and girls, to join this industry”.

“At SIG, women are still under-represented but I do have another woman on the Advisory Board – Angela Wheeler of Intelsat. Generally, it is good to have women in leadership roles in any industry and satellite is no different. I am also not technically trained, which has meant over the years that I have had to listen and learn so much, and I still have a long way to go with my technical knowledge and understanding. However, what I hope that brings is a different outlook on the challenges we face, while being supported by the directors who are in the thick of it with technical operations.”

Under Weedon’s guidance, SIG hopes to explore newer areas within the satellite industry, though its core achievement continues to remain interference and raising awareness of both the problem and the tools available to combat it. Although jamming is very rare across the world, the Middle East has historically been the biggest problem area, owing to the political volatility within the region. Still, it has reduced considerably even here.

“The challenge is that we don’t have tangible statistics, although we have tried on numerous occasions to collect this. However, anecdotally we believe that instances of interference are reducing; and perhaps more important, time to resolution has decreased thanks in part to our efforts and to some great tools that have been introduced to the market,” Weedon explains.

Interference has also diminished thanks to a steady stream of new technologies entering the market. Verisat, for instance, launched a tool to make it quick and easy to detect VSAT interference several years ago. The tool was so successful that the company was soon acquired by Kratos Communications, which has further developed its capabilities, Weedon says. More recently, QuadSAT launched a tool using drones which is set to revolutionise the way antennas are tested.

“Given that a huge percentage of all interference is caused by faulty equipment, ensuring good antenna performance will undoubtedly make a difference,” she says.

Integrasys is another company that has launched some innovative tools for interference reduction, making it easier to set up antennas correctly without causing mispointing, she points out. While tools are available, most interference is “caused by human error, followed by equipment failure as the second element”, Weedon points out. “The more tools we have that eliminate those problems, the better. Initiatives such as SOMAP, of course, go a long way to helping with that.”

SIG is now looking to include topics around 5G and satellite’s role in it, including the challenges faced by LEO operators and the problem of debris, says Weedon.

“Our main goal is to bring the right people together to discuss those challenges within the satellite space so that we can collectively find resolutions. Our next workshop, which takes place in May at Goonhilly in the UK, will address LEO challenges and opportunities.”

Although a big satellite programme was being planned at ConnecTechAsia in June along with SIG’s traditional innovation tours, where it takes participants to member booths on the show floor, the recent global pandemic and the subsequent postponement of the Singapore show have dampened some of those efforts.

But that has not deterred the group, which has launched an innovation hub to help companies get their latest innovative solutions in front of the industry. SIG also has plans to launch a brand-new awards programme later this year, though details have not been announced yet.