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Bandwidth Management: New Paths in the LEO and MEO Era

The advent of new High Throughput Satellites (HTS) will add to the swell of LEO and MEO bandwidth supply. As capacity will likely reach unprecedented levels, can the industry expect a surplus? And would this render bandwidth management less vital? Market players break down the demands and trends, revealing that bandwidth management solutions will see greater importance.

The stars fell and competition rose. Leading satellite companies who enjoyed plump margins and steady revenue streams from broadcast and government verticals came crashing back to Earth with their share prices burning up in the atmosphere on the way down. Lower-cost, high-capacity systems had managed to topple the satellite giants and break their market stronghold. Greater competition means better pricing for customers and means there is also more bandwidth — all a good thing. But is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Considering the bandwidth coming online as well as the HTS being flown, is it becoming a manna-falling-from-heaven situation, with an oversupply in the cards? And what does this abundance mean for the bandwidth management market?

Too much of a good thing, it seems, is wonderful, according to market players, who noted that if there is going to be an oversupply at all, it would only be a temporary situation. What is certain, they say, is that requirements for bandwidth management solutions will remain, at the very least, hearty.

“If anything, bandwidth management could be an issue of greater importance. Multiple satellite systems, with more bandwidth and more customers that can be using GEO/MEO, GEO/LEO or even MEO/LEO add more dimensions of complexity to networks,” says Fred Morris, vice president of Comtech EF Data’s satellite operator market vertical.

Bandwidth demand rises as prices become more competitive, which, in turn, will see users demanding more throughput, adds Gerard Johnston, vice president of media solutions at Globecomm. This, he explains, will not only see that any oversupply is short-lived but will also allow service providers to improve services to customers, which is good for business. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for new services and new users to leverage the benefits of satellite connectivity.

“This also applies to new networks in GEO services, where lowering-cost available bandwidth is considered. For example, as legacy GEO broadband service providers move to HTS, opportunities in GEO services become more in reach to new, unique service providers. Operators, service providers, resellers and others will be competing in all markets and, therefore, management and utilization of bandwidth will be key to winning and keeping customers while providing hybrid solutions for continuous, ubiquitous connectivity,” says Johnston.

According to Cisco’s internet traffic forecasts, the next five years will see a compound annual growth rate of 22 percent, resulting in twice the current amount of traffic. Based on this as well as the unabated projections of demand requirements across core satellite markets, VT iDirect sees supply continuing to be in high demand.

“It will also open new market opportunities,” says Wayne Haubner, senior vice president of emerging technologies at VT iDirect. “With a larger capacity supply, the issue of bandwidth management will begin to shift from efficiency to allocation. With more capacity comes larger markets, networks and endpoints. That means satellite operators and service providers will need a sophisticated way to allocate bandwidth across end users based on real-time dynamics. Further, they will need to bring satellite capacity to market across multiple business models and integrate with other access technologies."

As long as satellite bandwidth has a higher cost to the user compared to terrestrial options, there will always be a strong need for bandwidth management, says Rolf Berge, director of energy products at SpeedCast. The service that offers highest customer experience, which includes throughput, will be the most attractive service to customers, he adds.

“An oversupply implies that demand for available bandwidth is not there. I don’t think that is a realistic scenario; I’d say true demand is close to insatiable. We all accept that satellite connectivity, when there is a choice of different transport means, is almost always at the bottom of the list. Other ways of connecting are favorable due to lower cost and higher performance. However, in many cases there is no choice,” says Berge.

Use of satellites to carry data is certainly increasing, says Berge. The range of connectivity per site has widened significantly. On the low end, SpeedCast sees narrowband IoT applications making use of satellite. On the high end, it sees the cruise industry driving connectivity beyond 500 Mbps per vessel. Somewhere in between there, adds Berge, the aero market is also adding to demand, with numbers of sites, of course, larger than the cruise industry.

“With the increase in available bandwidth, there is also a significant growth in usage of satellite connectivity. It’s not a case of growing capacity and a flat uptake of it,” says Berge. “With more capacity becoming available, the general expectancy is that cost per Mbps will go down, and with that demand scales up. However, there is still a requirement to have bandwidth management. The more Mbps throughput you can achieve per unit cost will further drive use of satellite connectivity, regardless of satellite constellation. If the choice is between low latency LEO or MEO and high latency GEO, the winner will be the better performing satellite constellation.”

With market players highlighting the vigor of demand for bandwidth management, the question then centers on the trend of solutions being provided to satellite operators. What do LEO and MEO operators in particular want? Bandwidth management can be many things, but looking beyond how to pack the most bits per hertz, what else does this market encompass?

“Compression, caching and spectrum efficiency will remain equally important, naturally. The limitations of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) over high latency links will be less of an issue with LEO or MEO. Some LEO constellations, particularly with inter-satellite links, will likely perform better than fiber,” says Berge.

Looking singularly on satellite networks, there are a few things bandwidth management can do: Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM), TCP/IP proxy, compression, caching and the like. However, SpeedCast prefers to think beyond that, explains Berge, adding that customers are benefiting from having hybrid networks and, therefore, the company has a focus on Software Defined Networks (SDN).

“Our SDN solution means matching the type of application to the right means of transport. Where there is a choice, certain applications can use high-performing, low-latency transport, such as LTE or high capacity radio, and other applications can be routed differently. The result is a correctly balanced network, and an optimal quality of experience (QoE),” Berge says.

“At the very least, the same bandwidth management solutions are required whether the traffic is GEO, MEO or LEO. What MEO and especially LEO offer are lower latency paths than GEO. A bandwidth management system could route latency-sensitive traffic to a MEO or LEO path, while the less latency-sensitive traffic could be sent over the GEO path. Also, there is a push for greater ease of use of these systems, while they are being used in more creative ways than before,” says Morris.

The need for LEO, MEO, GEO and HTS platforms is driven by demand for broadband IP networks, says Johnston. Typically, LEO designs allow broadband services across global beams while HTS provides broadband services in spot beam coverages optimized to geographic zones. Providing the bandwidth management solutions for each of these platforms is a market differentiator for Globecomm, says Johnston.

“We’ve already got an IoT platform that aggregates the usage of all satellites and normalizes the IoT data to and from devices globally, providing a single interface for our customers to manage their connectivity and assets. The bandwidth management solutions will be the brains to a complete SDN, aggregating the various satellite platforms to provide a network of ubiquitous connectivity for both mobile and fixed applications,” says Johnston.

The capacity explosion, says Haubner, will bring greater need for what iDirect calls “global bandwidth management.” This enables network operators to pool capacity across multiple orbits, constellations and spot beams, then leverage the combined pool to partition bandwidth across their global customer deployments through dynamically configurable Service Level Agreements (SLA). Managing the use of bandwidth to prioritize service levels accordingly, service providers can then optimize bandwidth and corresponding traffic profiles to the economics of each orbital plane or each satellite’s specific characteristics.

This will drive the need for a more standards-based approach and orchestration among all these technologies, explains Haubner. Satellite operators will need to offer services using capacity across every orbit and constellation. Antenna manufacturers will need to create cost-effective, electronically steerable antennas that can navigate across multiple orbits, constellations and bands. Terminal manufacturers will need to engineer multi-orbit remotes that can be reprogrammed over the air to support multiple waveforms.

“We envision the capability for a service provider to provision and deliver the same service to the end user over any orbit. This demands a shift from closed systems to open platforms that can integrate an ever-wider range of technology and service components. This has been part of iDirect’s vision, and we are supporting this through dynamic services, roaming, LTE/5G interoperability and orchestrating the management of blended portfolios,” says Haubner.

Managing the Technological Challenges

Despite increased HTS, LEO and MEO capacity, bandwidth management solutions are still needed. Market players share their technological breakthroughs and how solutions are keeping up with demands.

Comtech EF Data solutions include IP header and payload optimization, DoubleTalk Carrier-in-Carrier implementations, and provision of high-performance modulation and coding. To ensure technology keeps up with bandwidth management needs, the company has developed a dynamic bandwidth access method, H-DNA, to address varying levels of bursty traffic found in internet access, mobile and corporate networks. H-DNA reacts on a sub-second basis to changing user demand and link conditions without introducing Time-Division Multiple Access (TDMA) such as jitter and latency. H-DNA’s rapid response is possible by precise time and frequency synchronization between the hub and remotes. The integrated H-DNA controller creates and distributes a new bandwidth plan prior to the start of next time interval based on real-time network-wide traffic demand, link conditions and quality of service profiles.

Globecomm focuses on researching cutting-edge technologies to suit the custom platforms it deploys. According to the company, new video compression and multiplexing platforms, new VSAT and Single Carrier Per Channel (SCPC) technologies using proprietary and open efficiency standards, IP network optimizations for broadband, hybrid satellite, and terrestrial content delivery network advancements are among examples of technology adjusting to demand. A key development is the flat panel antenna. The development of this at consumer prices, it says, is critical to the business case for the new LEO satellites and, therefore, for the industry to take the next step beyond GEO HTS.

VT iDirect has redesigned the foundation of its satellite remote to meet demand for constantly higher throughput rates and the need to integrate access technologies to support end-to-end networks. The new iQ Series remote is built on a programmable Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) chipset that provides flexibility and performance. Remotes can be continually reprogrammed over the air to increase network capabilities and throughput levels, while dramatically extending the deployment life of the remote. A programmable remote enables service providers to be prepared for future capabilities.

SpeedCast observes that the ground equipment is not keeping pace, noting that while LEO constellations are close to becoming reality, options for terminals and antennas are still limited to parabolic tracking or stabilized systems. The recent introduction of the Kymeta terminal for the Kalo service was encouraging, says the company, but the ground segment needs a do a lot more. In response, SpeedCast is investing in developing suitable flat panel antennas to be ready for the next-generation LEO constellations. VS