Gilat’s Elinav Explains How Ka-band ‘Crossed the Chasm’ from Risk to Mainstream

[Satellite News 05-17-12] The Ka-band evolution is not only underway in the space segment, but also on the ground, as manufacturers and developers race to produce technology that fully leverages the high-performance bandwidth. Israeli satellite and hybrid networking product developer Gilat Satellite Networks has dedicated a significant amount of its financial resources to execute a long-term push into the Ka-band arena.

   The initiative requires Gilat to explore new markets in government and enterprise verticals. After signing recent contracts with new customers to provide high-throughput bandwidth and related services, one of the verticals that Gilat is focusing on is Ka-band service to remote regions.
   In February, Gilat took a considerable leap forward with its strategy by winning a contract with O3b Networks to develop and supply Ka-band infrastructure for O3b’s VSAT services in emerging markets. At the time, Gilat CEO Erez Antebi described the partnership with O3b as an exciting opportunity to advance his company’s strategic investment in Ka-band technology. “Gilat and O3b are jointly paving the way to the commercialization of the Ka-band as a strong alternative for fiber technology, predominantly in underserved regions.”
   Gilat Vice President of Strategic Accounts and Director of Ka-band Initiatives Doron Elinav also has helped lead his company’s charge to become a strong contender in various Ka-band arenas from the Russian market to the military satcom sector. Elinav spoke with Satellite news about the financial and technical aspects of high-throughput services that are motivating more and more satellite companies to take part in the Ka-band evolution.
Satellite News: Satellite network technology providers and smaller market players have traditionally been cautious to invest in Ka-band. Now, every company seems to be including Ka-band in their long-term plans. What do you think was the motivating factor for the change in the ground segment?
Elinav: The higher performance of Ka-band outweighs the expense of adapting to a new technology. The mix of more capacity and services with higher data rates and at lower cost-per-bit makes Ka-band a very attractive investment for satellite. This opens opportunities for satellite communications that were not feasible in the past, either because of the economics or because of lack of capacity.
Satellite News: Why has Ka-band only recently generated this kind of buzz despite being in the development pipe for years?
Elinav: There was a certain time when the industry “crossed the chasm,” meaning that a satellite operator announcing a Ka-band satellite or payload was not an early adopter taking a risk, but a mainstream operator making an investment in the future. It is hard to say when, exactly, this moment occurred, but it was not all that long ago. I suppose you could say it happened a year ago or, perhaps, a bit earlier.
Satellite News: How healthy is the Ka-band market for ground segment providers?
Elinav: I think that there are full solutions available for Ka-band both by Gilat and other vendors, but only a small number of players are really qualified in this arena. I believe the move to Ka-band will make it even more difficult for some of the smaller players. I also see that the range of RF and antenna offerings are much smaller than that of Ku- and C-band offerings. So, for example, if you want an off-the-shelf 3-Watt Ka-band block up-converter for a reasonable price, you don’t have as many options in terms of Ku-band. The only companies that have access to inexpensive products of that sort are the big VSAT vendors. I do expect, however, that we will see more products for Ka-band, but this will take time.
Satellite News: Will the Ka-band success story vary by region and/or market?
Elinav: I think that services in each region will be different. Services in emerging markets will probably be less focused only on consumer, and there will also be initiatives for trunking, such as for ISP connectivity and cellular backhaul. Also, a bigger focus will be on government projects in these regions.
Satellite News: Gilat has been pushing technology into the military sector for the past few years. Do you think we’ll see a more widespread use of military Ka-band in the near- or long-term?
Elinav: This is the time frame for a few of the U.S. Department of Defense programs to decide on their main operating frequency in their next phase, given that [Wideband Global Satcom] WGS Ka-band capacity seems to be a very strong candidate to take a significant number of these applications. Other military organizations are likely to follow the same trend after some delay. In this respect, many communications-on-the-move programs will start their shift to this relatively new frequency band.

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