iDirect CTO Bettinger Discusses Ka-band Challenges Beyond the Consumer

[Satellite News 05-03-12] Like many other tech-focused executives in the satellite broadband industry, iDirect CTO David Bettinger is very familiar with what makes Ka-band so alluring – the bandwidth offers high performance for a high-demand market.

   Satellite News spoke with Bettinger about how Ka-band has enabled the emergence of the consumer business, brought high-speed connectivity to mobile consumer devices in every environment and has largely conquered the technological obstacles that were previously factored into the risk equation of launching new services.
 
Satellite News: How does Ka-band compare with Ku-band in terms of investing in future satellite platforms?
 
Bettinger: As orbital slots have filled with Ku-band satellites, Ka-band has become increasingly more attractive to satellite service providers.  Historically, the poorer rain-fade characteristics of Ka-band made the band less attractive.  However, the dramatic increase in available satellite power coupled with spot beam architecture has made Ka-band an excellent choice, especially for enterprise and military applications.   
 
Satellite News: What are ground segment developers doing to support the new Ka-band segment in orbit?
 
Bettinger: To serve the spot beam architecture of the high-throughput Satellite, providers are investing huge amounts of resources into ground segment infrastructure centrally located at the feeder link for the satellite. The ground segment infrastructure needs to support much faster speeds. The hub architecture also needs to support different ratios of inbound and outbound channels that exist in Ka networks and also needs to scale to support a large number of terminal deployments.
   One challenge to the take rate of Ka-band will be the cost and feasibility of converting existing Ku-band terminals to Ka-band. Ka-band RF equipment including antennas, BUCs, etc., are typically more expensive than Ku-band.  There is however, an enormous number of existing Ku-band terminals which could benefit from the transition to Ka-band.
 
Satellite News: When do you think we will see a defining moment for the Ka-band evolution?
 
Bettinger: On the commercial side, it will happen when we start to see massive adoption by enterprise customers. The fact that an abundance of capacity is about to be unleashed will spur adoption with the promise of lower costs and higher speeds. On the military side, the adoption of Ka-band on the WGS constellation was a defining moment.  Quite often, the military leads the way in adopting these types of technologies. 
 
Satellite News: How will Ka-band service roll outs in emerging markets compare with those that we’ve seen in Europe and North America?
 
Bettinger: Emerging markets may see a slower take rate for Ka-band than we have seen in Europe and North America.  One reason is that emerging markets tend to be more sensitive to remote terminal pricing.  As mentioned previously, Ka-band terminals tend to be more costly than Ku-band.  Of course, as more Ka-band terminals are produced and Ka-band becomes more popular, economies of scale may drop Ka-band terminal pricing closer to the equivalent Ku-band terminal price. 
 
Satellite News: How do you think the military will start switching over to Ka-band?
 
Bettinger: We are seeing a very rapid shift to Ka-band, especially for airborne COTM networks.  Ka-band is particularly attractive to the military because of the availability of Ka-band on WGS and the global Ka-band coverage being launched over the next few years.  The combined military and commercial Ka-band spot beam coverage provided the ideal satellite topology for airborne COTM networks.  

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