Satellites Gaining Larger Share of Telecom Pie?
Software Synchronisation on the Ground Key
By Anne Wainscott-Sargent
28 March, 2023
WASHINGTON – Software-defined ground infrastructure is key for the satellite sector to gain traction in the trillion-dollar telecom broadband market, an expert panel featuring ALL.SPACE concluded at SATELLITE 2023 earlier this month.
Session moderator Ron van der Breggen, chief commercial officer for Rivada Space Networks, began the lively discussion by pointing out that for every dollar spent in space, a dollar needs to be invested in ground infrastructure.
Ground systems are not in sync with space-based innovations, agreed Greg Quiggle, Kratos’s SVP of Product Management, citing space advances in the form of massive multi-constellation networks, intersatellite links, software defined payloads and smallsats.
“We have all of this change going on in the space layer but over that same five to 10-year period, the ground systems looked kind of the same,” he said.
Brian Billman, ALL.SPACE’s head of Pre-sales and Customer Solutions, noted that ground terminals today lack intelligence and depend upon a single network and single waveform to communicate.
“We’re changing the game at ALL.SPACE by letting our customers access multiple networks across different orbits, simultaneously so now they can leverage the strengths of each of those individual networks and tie the best network to the type of traffic that they want to send,” he said.
Another trend, pointed out van der Breggen, was Starlink’s buildout of their satellite constellation even before the operator had their ground network fully built out.
“It’s the 21st century version of ‘build it, they will come,’” he said, asking the panel if the satellite industry is “talking too much and doing too little” on the ground side compared with Starlink.
“It’s certainly true that we’re seeing the status quo,” said Billman, who added that one advantage the satellite industry has is the combined strengths of multiple networks together compared to SpaceX’s bet on a single LEO (Low Earth Orbit) network.
“The differentiator of the rest of the industry is resilient connectivity from multi-transport layer access, where they can seamlessly switch between networks,” Billman said.
Clearly, the industry is moving toward smarter ground systems that leverage software for flexible and dynamic capacity when and where it’s needed, while also guaranteeing quality of service for mobility users across verticals like defense, aero and maritime.
“The ability for software-defined satellites to be able to move capacity where It’s needed…is very valuable to mobility applications,” said Sean Yarborough, vice president of Product Management at ST Engineering iDirect.
The panelists said standardization will enable expansion of the satellite market into the larger wireless connectivity space. In fact, it’s driving the industry’s move to integrate 5G into ground infrastructure.
The sooner that the industry can employ standardization in configuring its networks, “the bigger we can expand the market for satellite to take advantage of all that capacity,” Yarborough added.
Scott Mumford, CEO of Africa-based regional telecom operator Liquid Telecom Satellite Services, the lone telco on the panel, emphasised that satellite industry needs to embrace “pay-as-you-go satcom bandwidth” instead of the industry norm of fixed pricing models.
For satellites to be competitive, however, they must offer more affordable connectivity, the panelists said.
That philosophy aligns with panelist Michel Dothey’s strategy for Brussels-based neXat to give connectivity providers better choices and flexibility. The co-founder and CCO of the satellite aggregation platform provider said revenue sharing is key to his company’s ability to provide capacity on demand worldwide in C, Ku and Ka-band on more than 40 GEO satellites (and soon LEO). He said that neXat’s model is the direction the satellite industry needs to go.
“The end game is really to have capacity lit all the time and whoever is actually using the service pays for it,” Dothey added.
According to Quiggle, embracing the same protocols used by the telecom industry will ease adoption, but acknowledged that as an industry “we make it hard” by not agreeing on standards.
“If we’re able to adopt these standards and create business models like spot pricing, we’re going to see the prices continue to drop even more,” he said.