GLOBAL VSAT REVIEW: Mutual Recognition From The Ground Up

By | December 10, 2000 | Via Satellite

by David Hartshorn

For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution–and it’s wrong. The satellite industry rewrote that proverb when it successfully developed and implemented a simple process for a complicated and costly global problem. The challenge faced by the industry is perhaps best illustrated by the following story.

Not so long ago, one of Asia’s largest banks was in dire need of a telecom solution. Communications links between its headquarters and far-flung operations throughout the country were tenuous at best. The organization’s impeded efficiency was being translated daily into higher operations costs and, as a consequence, lower profits.

The application was a perfect fit for a VSAT-based network solution, which was not only readily available, but could be installed and operating within a matter of days, providing a full complement of Internet, voice, videoconferencing and data services. Satellite capacity was identified, link budgets were generated, and state-of-the-art earth station equipment was selected.

At last, the bank’s IT manager appeared to be within reach of a cost-effective solution, when it was determined that the terminal equipment, while type approved for use on a European satellite platform, had yet to receive satellite-operator type approval for the Asian bird. (Type approvals are issued to manufacturers by satellite operators after components or systems have been proven to be technically compatible with the satellite.)

Hasty phone calls were placed by the manufacturer, and it was learned that the equipment, despite having been tested and approved for use on the European satellite, would have to be subjected to a largely identical set of tests against a largely identical set of specifications before it could be used on the Asian capacity. But wasn’t that redundant?

Yes. Nonetheless, the manufacturer would have to take its place in a queue of other suppliers seeking time on an antenna test range. It might be months before the tests were completed and the type approvals granted. The IT manager, meanwhile, would have to wait–or look to another industry for his network solution.

This story is representative of a problem that was faced by the satellite community–including satellite operators, earth station manufacturers, value-added service providers and would-be end users–throughout every region of the world.

The industry decided to do something about it. Most of the world’s major satellite operators, service providers and earth station manufacturers entered a room together, with the express purpose of coordinating a solution. When they re-emerged, the industry had agreed to establish a technical framework that would enable mutual recognition of test results and issuance of type approvals by multiple operators based on commonly-accepted performance and quality evaluations.

If the participants could agree on such a framework, it would do nothing less than reduce network-deployment costs, quicken time to market and, ultimately, increase the competitive strength of the international VSAT industry.

They agreed. A few weeks ago, the satellite industry began taking advantage of the so-called Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA), which was developed through the Global VSAT Forum’s (GVF) MRA Working Group.

The first manufacturer to take advantage of the new framework was Channel Master LLC, a U.S.-based satellite antenna manufacturer, which rapidly received antenna type approval from three operators under the GVF MRA guidelines.

Panamsat, a U.S.-based satellite operator, approved Channel Master’s 1.2 m and 96 cm Ku-band antenna systems based on test results prepared according to the GVF procedure and first submitted to another satellite operator, in this case the U.S.-based International Telecommunication Satellite Organization (Intelsat). Meanwhile, another operator (which happens to be based in Asia) has indicated that it will also issue type approvals to Channel Master based on the MRA-compliant test results.

The MRA Working Group isn’t stopping there. The group is now reviewing variances between performance standards for similar equipment, with the goal of developing a set of industry-sanctioned recommendations that the GVF may propose to regulators.

Such recommendations might provide an efficient solution for yet another global problem: Many national administrations still require individual licenses for VSAT terminals. Such requirements are often expensive, time consuming and–in the case of terminals that pose no risk of unreasonable interference–completely unnecessary.

Industry-sanctioned recommendations on performance standards would facilitate blanket licensing of VSAT terminals which would, in turn, enable the industry to roll out cost- effective services to a wider audience, including small-to-medium enterprises, small office/home office users, consumers, and other key groups. So stay tuned. Mutual recognition has just begun.

David Hartshorn is the Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum. For more information, e-mail:

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