Via Satellite

Antenna Manufacturers Grapple With Heightened Demands

One of the most eagerly awaited panels on the final day of SATELLITE 2019 was “Antenna Technology for Advanced Connectivity Networks,” which saw a host of antenna companies and a number of other players talk about this particularly exciting segment of the market. What was interesting about the panel was the sheer number of different perspectives. Lisa Kuo, director of technical sales, Panasonics Avionics, took on the service provider perspective. Given that Panasonic has more than 2,237 connected aircraft in service, it is keen to see effective antenna technology to support its business plans. “As a service provider, we feel we are best positioned to know where the market is going, and we are definitely here to solve these issues. All of these technologies (antennas, constellations) are great, but how do you make sure all of these systems can work together? We need a lot more innovation in this area. We would like to have the same terminal forever,” she said.

Kuo added that airline passengers want an “at home” experience, but want high speed at no cost. However, replacing equipment is an issue. “We are big fans of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). We have airlines that fly over polar regions that right now don’t have any polar coverage. But, how much will it cost?”

Kymeta has recently launched an Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) and terminal and is one of a new wave of players trying to shake up the market. Lilac Muller, Vice President (VP) of product management at Kymeta talked about other connected transportation markets that could be targeted with better antenna technology. She highlighted intercity buses as one example as they frequently go out of terrestrial range, and need connectivity. Given that thousands of these intercity buses are acquired each year, both in the U.S. and in international markets, Muller highlighted this as a potential great, new market for satellite. In terms of driving costs down, Muller added, “We all recognize that costs that need to come down. One of the things is that is ignored is how these antennas are integrated into different platforms. You need to look at things in a holistic way, rather than just the cost of the antenna. The integrators are shifting in non-traditional satcom markets. People don’t care about technology. Some of the verticals (that satellite could be targeting) are cellular customers. The system magically needs to switch (to satellite). They want appropriate technology to make this happen.”

David Garood, SVP of market development at Phasor, echoed Muller’s sentiments by adding that the cost of satcoms is too high. When talking about the potential of the LEO market, he added, “Mobility will be a key business for operators. When you look at the LEO, it has to be an electronically steered antenna. It is a criticality for the whole LEO constellation ecosystem. There is a scarcity of available solutions. I think availability in terms of cost. I think the LEO opportunity, the main attraction for users is low latency. I think it is becoming increasingly important. For the mobility market, LEO offers a fundamental solution.”

The costs involved of deploying high-tech antenna systems was the main talking point of the panel. Peter Moosbrugger, chief technologist of phased array and Radio Frequency (RF) technology at Ball Aerospace, said, “I think it is very important to look at the satellite in two ways, on the ground as well as the satellite. You need to balance both. It is really critical to understand both ends of the link. The real vector we are working on is cost. Meeting aggressive cost points is key — there are complex economic architectures and they can unravel quickly.”

The panel also had an operator’s perspective with Raz Ramir, CEO of NSLComm, taking part. He said that NSLComm believes satellite communication is too expensive, and that the industry as a whole needs to make satellites more cost-effective and provide more bandwidth. “We believe antennas can help that process. We are launching a nanosatellite in two months. There is an opportunity to position NSLComm as a standard for small satellite communications in a given weight class.”

He also highlighted the need for flexibility. He added, “We don’t know what will be needed in satellites in five to six years. We need to create flexibility for how satellites are used in space. For example, how can I use an existing asset in space? I would expect to see more active systems. There is a bright future for both passive and active antenna technologies. There is a different mindset between industry and customers. Customers want a ‘better today’ rather than worrying about tomorrow.” VS