The satellite industry is changing. The big advantage of satellite over the years has been its point-to-multipoint capabilities. With the advent of data and video-on-demand, we are seeing more and more competition to the traditional delivery of satellite. At the same time, consumers don’t care how the data gets to them — their primary concern is bandwidth and latency. In addition to the change of consumer demand, the landscape of the satellite is evolving too. Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations are taking shape and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) has grown in value and success in recent years.
For years, the teleport has faced challenges, with the increasing numbers of satellites in orbit directly reflecting increasing operational complexity. There is set to be a huge focus on managing the ground segment and enabling it to cope with the increasing intricacies that LEO constellations will introduce. Satellite networks are set to become more complex with not only satellites, but data, being rapidly passed from one gateway to another. Although LEO is one of the main driving forces for this change, we know that all orbits will be affected; all users of Radio Frequency (RF) communications must logistically be able to share space and spectrum.
With the massive change in orbit needing to be reflected at the ground segment, many industry leaders are looking at teleport technology and questioning how it needs to be adapted. So, with the ground segment already set to be overhauled to allow LEO networks to work successfully, is now a good time to be asking how the teleport can be shaped to fit in to the wider communications network?
Demand Drives Development
The industry is unanimous that the next step for the teleport is virtualization. With the sheer number of LEO and MEO gateways required to manage data from constellations, software solutions are being seen as the best route forward as they allow flexibility within networks and offer a less complex way of scaling operations. Physically adding hardware requires planning for capacity, whereas a virtual, cloud-based solution can be instated based on demand. Cloud-working delivers improved operational and cost efficiencies, as well as dynamic and configurable systems, allowing service providers to remain competitive.
Satellites are configurable and therefore the ground segment needs to react accordingly. However, not all components can be virtualized; antennas, amplifiers, and frequency converters will remain hardware. With this in mind, there will be a need to bridge the gap between hardware and software seamlessly; standards such as the OpenAPI will enable the orchestration of physical and virtual devices.
Beyond the need for cloud-based flexibility, the complexity of the ground segment means that many operators are turning to intelligent management systems to monitor and configure teleports. The longstanding problem of RF interference still rears its head; as data service links try to maximize bandwidth, RF link issues can impact the throughput and efficacy of the link. As space and spectrum become increasingly dynamic, finding and rectifying incidences will become far more complex. Many professionals are highlighting that data processing and AI will be the only way to effectively manage the network. This tech revolution will see data processing move to the cloud, and this is another example of why ground segment technology will need to be able to integrate accordingly. Cloud offerings will position data centers at the teleport.
It’s also important to note that the infrastructures of our industry’s customers are changing; many are already working with cloud systems. Adapting with our customers will improve the workflows in the services we’re already providing. Communicating over cloud means that that, as an industry, we can easily sell capacity to new customers — streamlining the process for commercialization.
Creating New Opportunities for Satellite
With teleport operators being expected to shift much of their infrastructures to the cloud for operational reasons, it’s a good time for the industry to be looking at wider opportunities in the communications network. Workflows and distribution are changing. 5G is set to have a substantial impact on communications across all verticals. It makes sense for our industry to look ahead and facilitate its position in supporting communication systems outside of what we see as our traditional networks, i.e., new industries such as telecommunications.
We need to establish what our future will look for the convergence of terrestrial and satellite infrastructures for satellite links to be used within 5G communications systems. Interoperability is key and we should be taking a wider look at ensuring that our hardware and software ground segment solutions are not only compatible with each other, but with solutions from other industries.
Capitalizing on Change
Both consumer usage of data and our industry in general is going through a massive period of change. Technologically, we need to virtualize our ground segment systems to create a dynamic network to adjust to the changing landscape in orbit and to connect satellites with the cloud. Many verticals are building cloud infrastructures already, therefore we must be prepared to integrate and deliver our services in this format.
To remain competitive, the satellite industry must keep looking forward and positioning itself as integral to the overarching communications network, which will inevitably become one connected entity. As an industry our strength is bandwidth and capacity, and many industries will benefit from having access to these services. Those at the ground segment should be anticipating the move toward satellite links being used in 5G communications systems.
With ground segments needing to adapt infrastructures for virtualization, it is a perfect time for teleport operators to analyze the future of satellite within other industries and instate technology that will maximize opportunities that will ultimately sustain growth within the industry. VS
Helen Weedon is the managing director of the Satcoms Innovation Group.