[Satellite News 03-15-12] The transition from Ku-band to Ka-band is happening, much the same as the transition from C-band to Ku-band happened 20 years ago, thanks to the aggressive emergence of high-throughput satellites (HTS). NSR Senior Analyst and Head of Singapore Operations Patrick French opened his SATELLITE 2012 HTS session by asking his panelists if they agreed with his definition of what makes a satellite a high-throughput spacecraft.
An HTS satellite, according to French and his colleagues at NSR, is defined as a satellite that can generate two to three times the throughput of a traditional FSS satellite.
Hughes Senior Director of International Division Marketing Dave Rehbehn said he thought NSR provided a satisfactory definition for the technology, but one that should be used strictly for classification purposes. “What really defines an HTS satellite is the bandwidth economics that it provides to the customer,” said Rehbehn. “In some cases, an HTS satellite delivers value in its global coverage that outweighs the advantage of its high performance.
SES Strategic Market Development Director Nihar Shah informed attendees that satellite operators can achieve those bandwidth economics by controlling the value chain – from the satellite itself, all the way down to the brand of service reaching the end-user.
“With control of the chain, a satellite company can achieve a low-cost-per-bit offering on a large scale from one satellite that is able to offer the customer what they need,” said Shah. “SES, for example, is looking for a more incremental or staged approach in the HTS environment, where we can achieve the same high-throughput service on a piggyback payload and then share the costs among several missions to bring services prices down. You need a higher level of demand assurance and the ability to hedge your bets on where that demand will materialize.”
Thaicom Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Nile Suwansiri said that in the past, the definition of an HTS satellite was dominated by the concept of “bigger is better.” Suwansiri now believes it’s the other way around.
“A strategic approach to defining HTS operation was to think about pointing its spot beams to the right market. Now, at Thaicom, we think about pointing the HTS beams everywhere we can. But, this strategy doesn’t come without a high level of market intelligence, which is key in the Asia-Pacific region, where regulatory arenas are not as straightforward as they are in the United States.”
Before asking the panelists to define the future of the HTS market, French presented the session with NSR research that showed a significant change in the industry occurring between 2010 and 2010. “Global HTS supply will increase 16 times over current levels to 1.2 Terrabits-per-second in ten years, while global HTS demand will experience almost a 30-fold increase,” said French. “Global HTS fill rates, however, are only projected to approach 50 percent of the available transponder supply in 2020.”
Could this be a warning to people looking toward the HTS bandwagon to monetize its current assets before making the jump?
ViaSat Vice President Marc Agnew responded with a resounding endorsement of the HTS market’s potential. “We’re seeing a trend, across the entire industry, of offering more capacity per satellite at a lower cost,” he said. “Imagine any application that requires an intense level of bandwdith, while being sensitive to costs, and you could come up with a hundred ways to grow consumer broadband services.”
Agnew was extremely confident in his prediction that bringing the home broadband experience to the airline passenger was the next big offering market for HTS satellites, but listed other high-throughput applications set for growth. “Cellular backhaul, satellite newsgathering, oil and gas and disaster recovery are all verticals begging for the attention of HTS providers,” he said. “Customers in these markets can and will migrate to HTS because of the bandwidth offering. There could also be a migration from terrestrial to satellite in nomadic applications such as hospitality and ground-based coms-on-the move. The upcoming presidential election, for example, could bring broadband to buses via satellite.”
This mainstream exposure could overshadow the initial success of spot-beam satellites in the mid 2000s, when WildBlue entered service on Anik satellites. Wildblue-1, the service provider’s second satellite, was, in fact, a dedicated Ka-band satellite.
Harris CapRock COO Andy Lucas reminded the panel not to forget about leveraging HTS service to customers in remote enterprise operations. “Our customers all work in harsh environments where satellite is the only option. Providing these people with reliable, high-end, high-definition video streaming could break the limits on the way these customers do business and generate a strong following for satellite. What’s exciting about these HTS spacecraft is that they generally make point-to-point applications more effective and more reliable over time.”
Rehbehn agreed with the notion that there are potential applications beyond the traditional HTS markets, but felt that there were several reasons to consider consumer broadband as the primary driver for growth. “In the United States, 10 to 15 percent of residents live in areas that are unserved and underserved by broadband. If you look at that market segment on an international level, specifically those who could afford broadband, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of potential customers. Currently, there are a million subscribers between the two main HTS broadband providers in the United States, so there is plenty of available market in North America alone.”
Shah added that the application of using spot-beams to multiply broadcast frequencies and increase throughput was similar to the broadband model that employs more channels and more bits at lower costs. “Broadband is obviously the key market for HTS as far as bits are concerned – whether it’s broadband for crew on a ship, or broadband to someone here at the conference with a 4G phone.”
For many years, Thaicom held the largest HTS spacecraft in the world with IPStar, which was launched in 2006 as only defined high-throughput satellite in Asia. Suwansiri said that Thaicom learned how to tackle the HTS growth platform from its own history. “Asia is unique from North America, as the area covers 14 countries that all represent completely different markets,” he said. “IPStar never took off because of the proliferation of ADSL and the price point at which it was offered. Since then, we’ve had to be a bit more creative. We can’t just sell a gold package and wait for the customers. The mobile backhaul market is an area where we’ve applied this creativity.”
Japan is a powerful example for Suwansiri. Every inch of the small-sized nation is covered in terrestrial fiber, but that didn’t stop Thaicom from selling six gigabits of cellular backhaul throughput to Japanese customers. “The goal is to get broadband out to the masses,” he said. “Reaching this goal requires a combination of government and mobile consumer involvement. To us, the growth of the small HTS satellite market makes sense, because it stages capacity over time in markets that are both developed and in development.”