In October 2012, one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes hit the Atlantic Coast of the United States just south of New York City. Amidst the flooding and devastation, Superstorm Sandy caused widespread communication outages that thrust highly populated areas into communication dead zones. For days, people couldn’t make cellular calls and emergency workers struggled to coordinate efforts.
It’s not an exaggeration then when Stuart Burson, Associate Director of Satellite Solutions Group, Verizon, says that the satellite network often times acts as a first responder in times of natural disaster. As one of the world’s major communications companies, Verizon has a fleet of crisis response vehicles equipped with satellite communication terminals that are readily deployable at any time, under any circumstances.
In the case of Superstorm Sandy, Verizon was able to quickly move these vehicles into position throughout New York and New Jersey. They established 27 temporary connectivity sites to provide shelter, international VoIP service, laptops and charging stations, allowing thousands of people to get out of the harsh weather to make phone calls and send emails. These sites further served as a base of operations for first responders.
In the aftermath of a tornado, hurricane, flood or any other natural crisis, often times the first thing people are looking to do is to simply pick up the phone and tell their loved ones, “I’m okay.” Having a network that is resilient enough to make that a reality is priceless — and the very reason why, from day one, Verizon made certain that satellite interfaced with its core MPLS network.
“VSAT is seamlessly integrated into our service portfolio. It’s a simple form of alternate access to a site,” Burson says. “We mapped satellite to the feature set of our MPLS network, and work with partners like iDirect to ensure satellite provides our customers with what they want – seamless data transport.”
Satellite communication shines bright in an always-on, connected world, because no other access technology offers the reach that satellite can achieve. The wide coverage, immediacy of service, and support for mobile communications on the pause (COTP) and communications on the move (COTM) prove valuable attributes for any global communications company looking to complete the reach of their global service portfolio. This is why companies such as Verizon, based in the United States, and BT Global Services, headquartered in the United Kingdom, but with a global presence, have achieved tremendous success using satellite to fulfill disaster recovery, business continuity and remote customer connectivity needs.
The Time is Now
Communications providers are rapidly developing strategies to ensure satellite is employed as a key asset. Both BT Global Services and Verizon have established teams that specialize in satellite communications to identify when a client will benefit from the application of VSAT as part of a total solution. In support, the satellite communications industry is creating the next-generation of technology that not only makes it easier and more cost-effective to integrate into the core network, but can satisfy rigorous communications service cases.
The timing for this concentration of technology advancements couldn’t be better. The volume of global IP services is projected to hit an accelerated level of growth over the coming years. Forecasts from Cisco expect roughly 4 billion connected people, 20 billion connected devices and 50 billion machines to come online by 2020, generating demand for IP services unlike anything currently experienced today.
This is leading to anticipated market sizes of $191 billion in cloud services (Forrester Research), $6.5 trillion in global telecommunications spending (Telecommunications Industry Association) and nearly $9 trillion in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications spending (IDC) by 2018-2020. But this revenue opportunity can only be realized if communications companies are able to provide an end-to-end communication experience that reaches anywhere, over any access technology.
“When we provide services to a customer, we don’t want the customer having to think about access technologies and ask, ‘Is BT using terrestrial?’ or ‘Is BT using satellite?’” Renato Goodfellow, Head of Global Satellite, BT Global Services, says. “We want the customer to be able to be agnostic to how we’re providing the connectivity, trusting that we provide the service required and it works. Indeed we established BT Advise some years ago to ensure we are able to fully understand our customer business needs and hence deliver service, not simply connectivity.”
The ability to best service customers is contingent on being able to pivot seamlessly between terrestrial and satellite technology, while offering the same user experience for the right solution.
Breaking Out of the Silo
Whereas in the past satellite was matched to a very specific set of requirements, today it is being deployed with the intent of operating right at the heart of IP networks, and communications providers envision a much bigger role for the technology ahead.
“Satellite is an alternate access technology, but is not separated into an access technology silo,” Burson says. “If you look at the vast array of services Verizon provides to the enterprise market, it’s very important our satellite engineering team tries to mirror those features as closely as possible so that they are integrated into our final solution.”
Verizon operates an end-to-end network that delivers a highly secure, robust private network solution that serves customers worldwide. Integrating satellite into that core MPLS network did not come without its challenges. Overcoming common hurdles associated with things like routing, quality of service (QoS) and customer visibility required close collaboration with satellite technology partner iDirect.
“The goal is to make satellite look like any other access technology,” Eric Watko, Vice President, Integrated Solutions and Space Systems, iDirect, says. “To support the service needs of the industry, we can’t just focus on what we are doing over the space segment. We have to examine everything from the edge of the core network, all the way to the terminals and ultimately on to the end user’s endpoint. Every service provider has its own way it wishes to differentiate services, so iDirect has to be able to offer a range of capabilities to satisfy these different approaches.”
In Verizon’s case, it has six classes of service within its terrestrial network, which means it is highly important to have seamless handoff between terrestrial and satellite networks. This ensures that the carrier is maintaining the quality expected by the customer, such as being able to properly prioritize a customer’s voice and data communication.
Right from the start, iDirect worked with Verizon to implement desired features such as Group QoS (GQoS), BGP routing, and encryption across the satellite portion of the network. iDirect’s GQoS technology enabled Verizon to map satellite services against Verizon’s terrestrial QoS standards, providing customers a virtual mirror of services on both their satellite and terrestrial networks.
“It’s important to be able to show customers that we’re meeting their Service Level Agreements (SLAs),” Burson says. “On our terrestrial networks, we have standards on reporting. When they have a satellite connection, they can visit the same portal they do for their terrestrial network and see the satellite network information. We collect data from satellite and feed it into our overarching customer portal, repackaging it into a common look and feel that the customer is used to seeing.”
For other service providers like BT Global Services, satellite plays the vital role of upholding a promise of providing a managed network service whenever and wherever needed. BT Connect Global MPLS network provides connectivity to nearly 200 countries using more than 60,000 kilometers of terrestrial fiber. For those locations where the fiber simply cannot reach—roughly 37,000 remote sites worldwide—satellite carries the load.
Just like Verizon, BT Global Services collaborates closely with iDirect to optimize the quality and integrate satellite seamlessly into BT Connect. BT Global Services has installed dedicated hubs in most regions of the world to optimize communication performance and meet the demands of its multi-national clients. BT Global Services also creates industry-specific solutions for customers such as oil and gas, mining, cellular backhaul and enterprise manufacturing.
“Satellite is a far more cost-effective backup for us to provide to sites than duplicating the terrestrial MPLS infrastructure, or looking at 3G and 4G, which wouldn’t necessarily be available in all the locations, and would be far harder to manage across all the locations a customer might need,” Goodfellow says. “With satellite, many locations can share one pool of bandwidth very cost-effectively.”
More and more, network operators are integrating satellite into their service portfolios, helping them round out their total set of solutions.
New Technology Advances
Today, integrating satellite closer to the core network is merely table stakes for serving the growing demands of a global customer base. Capturing new demand in a connected world requires the need to be increasingly agile, which is why satellite communications is embracing solutions that make it easier to provision customers and configure networks.
“Technology is moving to a virtualized environment,” Watko says. “The terrestrial world is building a lot of infrastructure and technologies around cloud-based services, and satellite should leverage that technology. So we’re reimagining our technology portfolio around common virtualization standards and software-defined networking principles to further align satellite communications with the same trends occurring with other access technologies. For example, transitioning the functionality of network management and protocol processing out of fixed server hardware and into a virtualized environment.”
Verizon is one such provider that envisions virtualization making a positive impact on service delivery.
“We plan to invest in virtualized satellite technology and to continue to build on back office integration and automation,” says Burson. “The big benefit is to bring a lot of the network intelligence into the cloud or the data center where the teleports are just the RF mechanism to get out to the satellite. This means we can better manage and control the network through a scalable virtual environment where you can scale up resources on demand.”
In this regard, the teleport becomes a virtualized gateway, maximizing processing throughput and improving management through APIs. At the terminal level, this involves extending the lifecycle and performance of hardware and enabling software-based functional upgrades.
Watko characterizes the development as a “holistic approach” that will drive down IT and management costs, increase scalability and reliability, and enable providers with greater flexibility.
It is an approach that iDirect is adopting in order to help customers better leverage their technology investment, developing innovations around four core priorities: performance, efficiency, scale and extensibility. This includes delivering on greater efficiencies and performance with a focus on adapting technology to the DVB-S2X standard. This allows providers to adapt to latest standards to push the limits of bandwidth efficiencies and leverage the performance benefits of HTS. For terminals, software-defined terminal architecture increases life cycles and extends functionalities, pushing performance
It all culminates under a complete end-to-end vision for improving service delivery by tightly coupling satellite with carrier infrastructure. For iDirect this includes a solution-based approach that includes hosting specialized applications and providing API extension capabilities to allow for the networking environment to expand beyond the boundaries of the satellite platform.
This is precisely why iDirect has introduced a new feature set within the Evolution® platform called Layer 2 over Satellite (L2oS).
“We’ve broadened standards-based support by adding L2VPN architectures often deployed by global communications companies, making it easier to integrate satellite with terrestrial networking,” Watko says. “With L2oS, providers gain a mainstream, common data plane and the option to use these transparent architectures as the foundation for all their services.”
iDirect’s L2oS overcomes proprietary satellite protocols, allowing the satellite connection to emulate a transparent Ethernet link with the freedom to pass any protocols and provide more flexibility in network management. Service providers are able to simplify deployment of a satellite network and effectively carry IP traffic anywhere it needs to go.
BT Global Services is among the early adopters of L2oS, launching end-to-end Ethernet connectivity initially in Turkey, the Middle East, western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Uniting sites through a Layer 2 network should make it easier for enterprises to make local applications available across all their sites.
“Our customers are really happy that we can now further enhance the MPLS connectivity offered by satellite around the world to provide Ethernet extension with L2oS,” says Goodfellow. “With L2oS our customers have the opportunity to extend so much more of what they do between headquarters and remote sites.”
Supporting Global Communications
Today, global communications providers are creating the most cost-effective reach possible with terrestrial networks. But when it comes to serving remote locations, providing business continuity and fulfilling other unique demands, satellite is in position to satisfy all such needs.
The days of satellite being a high-cost, high-complexity solution matched only to a specific set of requirements is disappearing. As communications networks become more complex, satellite is transforming to become more simplistic to integrate into the core. In the end, it will lead to greater revenue-generating opportunities for all parties involved. VS