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The Satellite Industry Facelift

The satellite industry has developed dramatically over recent years, both in terms of capability and its image. The satellite “facelift” of course mainly culminates around High Throughput Satellite (HTS). The technology means that more people can access services via satellite than ever before, but, perhaps more importantly it means that satellite is suddenly a viable alternative to other types of connection, especially in those hard to reach areas. This in turn has led to a veritable explosion in service provision, giving our industry the chance to shine, but not without a few hurdles.

The VSAT Story

The Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) market is already a high volume market, providing communications to remote areas for a whole range of different services, such as oil & gas, maritime, environmental monitoring, e-learning, disaster recovery, cellular backhaul, to name but a few.

The emergence of HTS makes those terminals all the more efficient and reliable. As such, HTS has already having an impact on VSAT deployments. That is set to increase further, with Northern Sky Research estimating that the broadband VSAT market will reach $10billion by 2021. IT Market Research Reports estimate that the enterprise VSAT market will grow at a CAGR of 10.49% between 2015 and 2018.

The Digital Divide

Clearly we are in a position where we can truly make an impact on the highly talked about Digital Divide, whereby consumers and business operating in rural and remote locations are severely lacking the communication infrastructure available elsewhere. It has long been the case that satellite can reach those areas other networks don’t, but with HTS we can do that easily, quickly, and cost-effectively right across the globe. As an industry, we have a unique opportunity to close that divide and a lot of that work has begun, with many of the major satellite operators rolling out Ka- and Ku-band services to cover those footprints.

Broadband connections are getting faster and it is more and more being considered a right to have a good and fast connection, wherever you are in the globe. For rural locations, the connection is all the more vital, ensuring they can stay connected and keep up with urban areas. Thanks to HTS, satellite broadband services are being offered to rural communities at a much cheaper rate than ever before, so consumers are beginning to see the value in turning to these services for a better (or in some cases any) connection. As more services roll out, more people will have access to fast or even superfast broadband, regardless of their location, which will have an extremely important positive effect for many.

Of course, many industries have been relying on satellite connections long before HTS, such as the oil and gas industry, where you simply couldn’t get any other type of connection to an oilrig. Again, HTS means that we can make this connection all the more reliable and more cost-effective for the end user. For others, it is a question of using satellite for the backup as and when other connections drop. Clearly, the more reliable we can make that, the more those companies will feel they can truly depend on that backup.

The HTS Challenge

That all sounds like a perfect scenario for our industry: the world needs reliable connections, including in rural and remote locations, and the satellite industry can deliver it. Naturally, it is never quite as easy as that and as with everything, HTS technology comes with its own unique set of challenges.

HTS is somewhat a victim of its own success. Rapid growth means that operators are having to put in more and more large networks to cope with the extra demand, which often need to be deployed in a short time frame. Add to that the very nature of these deployments, which are generally in remote locations, which are lacking other communication infrastructure. For anyone deploying a network therefore, an installer needs to travel often long distances and then spend a considerable amount of time carrying out the installation. Reducing installation time can therefore save valuable time, even if it cannot of course get rid of the time taken to travel.

When it comes to installation, the other challenge is that the margin for error is high. If an installer is not adequately trained, which is quite often the case, it is all too easy to misalign the antenna causing a multitude of problems, including satellite interference. Of course, if no-one notices the problem until the installer has left the site, it then takes more time for someone to return and put it right. It can even go unnoticed for long periods of time, all the while quietly causing interference to other services.

Many VSAT networks are also mobile. Take the military, for example or maritime, where the unit is constantly on the move. In those cases, it can have been perfectly well installed and pointed, but then every time it moves, you risk all those same misalign problems again. Often the personnel accompanying the unit won’t be highly trained in satellite communications, but even when they are, it means a constant job of realigning to ensure the equipment is always working at its optimum and without satellite interference. It really isn’t practical in most cases for someone to spend vast amount of time dealing with the equipment whilst in the field, especially in a military situation. Yet, at the same time, ensuring a continuous connection can often be crucial.

Navigating the Hurdles

HTS brings our industry an overwhelming opportunity to provide connectivity to areas of the world who are currently suffering with no or poor connections. It also brings an efficient and reliable service to a number of vital sectors. Whilst we have a fair share of hurdles to overcome, the technology is available to make installation easier and quicker and to reduce errors both at installation and throughout operation. Those providers who take the time to get it right will reap the benefits of this new era of satellite. VS

Alvaro Sanchez is the sales director at Integrasys.