By Peter J. Brown
Robust, appealing and affordable Ka-band solutions are attracting new customers thanks to a growing menu of services. Applications ranging from 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," says Marc Agnew, vice president, broadband systems at California-based ViaSat Inc.
According to Don Osborne, president at Advantech Satellite Networks Inc., 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 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," says Agnew. "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," says 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.
Telesat On Top
Telesat quickly is becoming a Ka-band powerhouse, letting competitors and customers know that the right pieces are falling into place, that this is not a gamble and 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," says Dave Lahey, vice president, business development at Telesat, which owns and operates eight satellites. "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.
Telesat's expansive Ka-band satellite network operations depend on an ability to manage carrier monitoring across gateways. "Due to the nature of the spot beam design and the frequency reuse, the satellite architecture demands a common ground system to be widely deployed in gateways across the continent," says Lahey. "Ka-band is essential to the future for broadband via satellite. Volume is the key to achieving the economics needed to satisfy the consumer broadband market, and the huge amounts of capacity available with Ka-band spot beam satellites will enable those volumes," he says.