FSS operators are constantly looking at new technologies to improve business efficiencies and drive new revenue streams. The question is, what innovations are really needed by some of the biggest companies in this sector?
Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Sky Perfect JSAT are four of the biggest FSS operators in the world, with combined total revenues of around $6.3 billion in 2011. The operators have significant buying power for new technology and are aggressively investing in the expansion of their fleets. In this exclusive roundtable, we talk to executives of these four operators to find out where they are making investments, their key buying decisions and what technology they are using to advance their business plans. Taking part are Thierry Guillemin, CTO, Intelsat; David Bair, CTO, Eutelsat; Martin Halliwell, CTO, SES; and Yutaka Nagai, senior executive vice president, engineering and operations group, SKY Perfect JSAT.
VIA SATELLITE: What technology challenges is your company facing this year? What technology projects are you working on?
Guillemin: One of the things we are working on is broadband for global mobility. We are launching six new satellites in the next 10 months. Four of these satellites carry global Ku mobility coverage — we are the first to bring this to the market. The demand for broadband connectivity has been growing very fast. We have anticipated the trend and have built a global network with a Ku-band solution. When all is said and done, there will be seven different satellites with 10 different beams that are blanketing the globe. So, for the first time, maritime and aeronautical customers will be able to have broadband connectivity all around the Earth from one single provider.
Bair: We are pursuing a program of significant fleet expansion, with four launches in the next 12 months. Those are not new technology projects per se, but they are central to our plans for capacity increase and replenishment of older satellites. These satellites are of relatively standard designs but with very large and flexible payloads. In terms of new resources already in-orbit, we are very focused on the rollout of our Ka-Sat high throughput satellite, which we believe will fuel significant future growth. Ka-Sat allows us to maximize the amount of bits we can get through a single platform, so that is probably the key technology feature we are exploiting now and during the next few years.
Halliwell: The majority of technology challenges that we are working on are operational and engineering related. We have a fleet of 50 satellites in orbit and seven satellites under construction, with two launches scheduled this year. So, there is a huge amount of baseline engineering work to keep pace with the demands that we face today. The major areas of innovation that we are working on at the moment are things like electrical propulsion systems. We are really keen on moving towards an all-electric satellite. We are also looking at the consolidation of nine different legacy satellite control systems into two to three control systems, which is a major challenge. It is like changing the wheels of your car while driving down a motorway. On top of that, we are looking at flexible payloads and at more flexibility on the command receiver side, so that we can choose the various receive slots that we are going to use. Also on the agenda is transparent channelization and processing, i.e., digital transparent processors on board. Last but not least we are looking for variability in our TWTA output performance, i.e., flex-tubes. Some of these may be part of the RFIs that SES will be issuing within the next few months.
Nagai: Although it has been almost a year since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, we are still in the midst of rebuilding. In the past year, people have reconsidered the value of satellite communications due to its speed and resistance to disasters, and many organizations are considering using it. Our company is working on developing easy to use VSATs that can last through disasters, as well as services for business continuity planning (BCP) during disasters. S*Plex, a high-security distributed storage technology service that uses satellite communication error correction code technology, has been receiving attention as a reliable method to preserve important data. We plan on putting more energy into S*Plex to provide an even more stable service.