Ka-band, long struggling to attract a market, looks to be attracting new customers thanks to a growing menu of services. Applications enterprise and government high-speed data services to consumer two-way broadband and high-definition TV (HDTV) are being provided via an increasing number of Ka-band payloads, with operators in Japan and North America leading the way.
Consumer broadband services offered by Wildblue Communications Inc. and Telesat Canada in North America attracted thousands of customers by the end of 2005 and hundreds of thousands are expected to sign up by the end of 2006. "This rate of growth would not be possible without effective network operations on a scale never before seen on satellite," Marc Agnew, vice president, broadband systems at ViaSat Inc., said.
Telesat is letting competitors and customers know that Ka-band is a necessity when it comes to the future success of the satellite industry as a whole. "Telesat has pioneered the introduction of new satellite spectrum and technologies in North America and was the first to fully commercialize the Ka-frequency band with the launch of the Anik F2 satellite," Dave Lahey, vice president, business development at Telesat, which owns and operates eight satellites, said . "Ka-band will play a key role as more subscribers and features are introduced over the next several years," he says.
Anik F2 -- a Boeing-built, three-band satellite equipped with 38 Ka-band transponders, 32 Ku-band transponders and 24 C-band transponders -- is used to provide direct-to-home TV service, televoice and data services, private networks, IPTV, and two-way, high-speed Internet services, and Telesat has more Ka-band capacity coming. Anik F3, providing both Ku- and Ka-band capacity, will be launched in the third quarter to 118.7 degrees West. In 2008, Nimiq 4 will be placed at 82 degrees West. Both satellites are Eurostar E3000s built by EADS Astrium. An even more significant increase in Ka-band bandwidth is planned in the future with the launch of Telesat's Anik G1, which will be located at 118.7 degrees West.
More Optimism From Hardware Providers
As the number of Ka-band payloads grows, the vendors of terminals and other vital ground components are seeing more reasons for optimism. However, there is still a way to go before the volume of Ka-band sales is substantial. "Our Ka-band RF (radio frequency) product volumes are still quite small today, and it does not constitute a major part of our business yet, but we are seeing growth and expect this to continue," Ed Kevork, vice president, RF product development at Advantech AMT, said. "There is strong demand for solid-state high power amplifiers (HPA) for powers up to 50 watts and 100 watts, he says. "Due to the high frequencies, almost all applications are for outdoors close to the hub of the antenna."
Xicom Technology Inc. also has seen increased demand for Ka-band high power amplifiers throughout the last several years in both the commercial and the military markets, according to Travis Stewart, Xicom's director of engineering. "One of the most significant advantages of operating in Ka-band is that it offers additional operational bandwidth, which gives operators more capacity. The high capacity in Ka-band drives the requirement for greater linear power," said Stewart. "The integration of block up-converters into HPAs is common in C-band and Ku-band, and there is an increase in requests to integrate these devices into the Ka-band HPAs, too."
The implementation of such techniques as DVB-S2 adaptive coding and modulation, along with adaptive carrier rates on the inbound channels, has made an enormous difference for the service providers, said Don Osborne, president at Advantech Satellite Networks Inc. If everything goes according to plan, enterprise customers soon will start migrating to Ka-band to access cheaper satellite terminals and more affordable bandwidth. "Ka-band satellite broadband terminals will price below $300 within a few years and will be fully capable of supporting enterprise applications with an integrated VPN product," he said. "The emergence of IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) plays into Ka-band as an IP multicast service delivered over the same broadband pipe as the customer's Internet service."
However, despite considerable enthusiasm for Ka-band in certain circles, some satellite operators remain cautious. Intelsat Ltd., for example, has invested in Wildblue and recently launched a Ka-band payload aboard the Intelsat IA-8 satellilte, but at this time, Ka-band does not play a significant role in the company's strategy. "Intelsat's investment in Wildblue is a very good augment to its North American business -- it gives Intelsat a strategic position in the retail broadband market, allowing us to contribute to and gain from the business without being directly involved at this time," said George Giagtzoglou, Intelsat's senior director, strategy and planning. "Intelsat will continue to look at the opportunities for this frequency, particularly in areas where constraints on Ku-band capacity exist, such as North America and Europe, and potentially in other rapid growth regions. The Ka-band configuration of IA-8 is unique as it incorporates a multi-spot design, which is suitable for applications that require high contribution bandwidth," he says.
New Ka-band markets, like digital signage, are works in progress and not yet on the fast track like applications such as direct broadcast satellite Ka-band deployments for HDTV local into local broadcasting or the Wildblue consumer broadband initiative. Newtec is preparing the delivery of a Ka-band network to Arqiva for multicast delivery of digital signage information which can also be used to distribute digital cinema.
"Satellite news gathering is where the advantages of Ka-band are expected to yield an immediate result, but questions about reliability are having an effect," Osborne said. "Today, there is some high-end demand for satellite news gathering applications in Ka-band," he says, adding that enterprise applications suffer from the perception that Ka-band is unreliable due to rain fade. "Although this technology has been proven reliable, this perception remains."