[Satellite News 08-28-12] Fixed and mobile satellite operators have traditionally been categorized in separate markets due to the different services each provides to its own unique verticals. While FSS operators took hold of the point-to-point C-, Ku- and Ka-band markets and eventually evolving into point-to-multipoint, MSS operators established business in the L- and S-band frequencies.
But the divisions between MSS and FSS markets have been shrinking due to the emergence of Ka-band in the mobile sector, the growing demand for broadband connectivity to mobile, smaller, less expensive Earth stations, the evolution of VSATs to facilitate the transmission of both FSS and MSS uplinks/downlinks and their resistance to the recession. FSS operator Intelsat’s latest EpicNG open architecture platform and mobility offering, however, provided a multi-vertical example of how these markets are quickly starting to look alike. Intelsat General Vice President of Business Strategy and Marketing Britt Lewis spoke with Satellite News about the most valuable trends his company identified in the mobility sector and which trends drove Intelsat to launch such a wide-ranging mobility platform.
Satellite News: What are some areas of the mobile market where FSS operators like Intelsat can make a strong business case?
Lewis: As we look at the market space, there is an existing customer base out there that has historically used mobile satellite services from the likes of Inmarsat and Iridium, and the fact is, there is an increasing requirement for broadband communication solutions that are much broader in terms of throughput capabilities than what Inmarsat and Iridium offer today. This is being driven by a number of factors, depending on which segment of the market you are looking at. One of those factors is that video and imagery service are driving broadband communication needs. Aeronautical services represent another area where customers are really expressing the need for en route communications when airplanes are transiting from one route in one region of the world to another. Those users need an office-in-the-sky kind of construct that would support video teleconferencing and live TV. There is a broad need across all the different mobile segments for a broadband capability.
Satellite News: How does a fixed service operator like Intelsat even begin to make an investment in the mobility space?
Lewis: From the satellite perspective, companies like Intelsat that have been investing in spacecraft that will enable us to provide mobile types of services in broadband. Part of those investments Intelsat has been making involves the five satellites we are launching this year. Most of those are equipped with footprints and coverage over areas that we had not previously covered by an Intelsat satellite – for example, open ocean coverage. Our IS-27, IS-19, IS-20 and IS-22 satellites all have open ocean coverage, which is attractive to addressing mobility applications but also the ability to provide aeronautical en route communications. As you look at it longer term, you really seeing that there is a convergence and a need for synergy between the capabilities in space to provide the kind of power and gain that is compatible with lower profile terminals that many of these services require. You are seeing this now, particularly in the aeronautical arena where customers are bringing aircraft that they want equipped with enabled communications so they can have broadband communication. The challenge is they want smaller and smaller terminals and a lower weight terminal that reduces the amount of fuel that is necessary to support the transit of the plane itself. That places a premium on the spacecraft in terms of power that it needs. Fortunately, advances are being made both in the terminal infrastructure and the space segment that will support that.
Satellite News: What are some of the toughest technical challenges in developing the EpicNG platform for mobile markets?
Lewis: We are building out a high throughput construct with smaller spot beams. Those smaller spot beams are designed to provide the higher EIRP and advanced gain that is necessary to support the smaller terminals that are needed for mobility applications. Our vision was that our customers would continue to define their access mechanism. They have made billions in investment in Ku-compatible terminals, which is why we’ve built our high-performance, high-throughput satellites in Ku-band so they are compatible with the existing terminal infrastructure. Those who want to continue to use the terminals they have today which typically are a little bit larger, will achieve higher throughput. Those who want to be more aggressive in terms of the downsizing of the terminals will require the full power and gain and EIRP that will be built into the Epic satellites that will allow them to achieve broadband communication. As we look at EpicNG, we have an internal project here called the Ecosystem Project in which we are looking at and working with those in the broader value chain or ecosystem to provide them information on the capabilities of our high-throughput Epic satellite so they in turn can design terminals and modems that will be necessary to access the satellite.
Satellite News: What do you consider to be the mobile sector’s most valuable market for Intelsat’s new platform?
Lewis: I keep alluding to aeronautical services because we see that as the biggest growth area of mobility in the future. We’ve seen estimates that approximately 10,000 aircraft will be equipped to support broadband communications through either the reverse cellular capability or the satellite-enabled capability. That is a significant opportunity for Intelsat as well as other operators who are interested in the mobility space. Part of the requirements to support mobile communications is a range of things. One you need to get licensed to support over flight of various countries. The effort there requires the space segment but also specification of the terminals so as to ensure that you are not causing interference to other satellites that may be in the same orbital arc you may be operating. . In the land arena, you’ll notice our Epic coverage is largely land-oriented because the comms-on-the-move land vehicle and manpack user are also driving the needs of the market. Therefore, we wanted a design that would be compatible with those types of applications.