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MTN CEO: HTS is ‘Too Little, Too Late’

By Caleb Henry | November 7, 2014
Boeing 702MP

Artist rendition of the Boeing 702MP satellite platform in which the Intelsat 29e is being built.

[Via Satellite 11-07-2014] MTN Communications CEO Errol Olivier, cast doubt on those with lofty expectations for the impact of High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems. As a leading communications provider in the maritime industry, he highlighted how fast the demand for connectivity is growing, arguing that HTS was needed a long time ago.

“If you ask me ‘what do you think about HTS?’ I’d say it’s too late. It should have been here a long time ago. By the time you role out HTS satellites in different regions, the demand for the throughout will have grown exponentially from the time that satellite is designed and started. We have a lot more to think about than how much data will a HTS satellite be able to reach in a certain region,” he said at OilComm’s “Gauging the Impact of Satellite Technology Disruptors” panel.

Roughly 95 percent of MTN’s business is maritime communications, but the company’s oil and gas sector growth has climbed 20 percent year over year. Just recently, MTN established a Houston, Texas team specifically dedicated to oil and gas.

Though underwhelmed by HTS, MTN still has plans to use the technology. Olivier said the company has committed to all of the Caribbean capacity on Intelsat’s upcoming EpicNG satellite Intelsat 29. MTN has been very intentional in building a satellite network that covers the entire globe, but when asked where disruption is most likely to come from, Oliver said to look elsewhere.

“[Disruption is] going to come from outside the satellite industry. The demand is high and the cost is high. That means consumption is low. When you have more consumption, you have more congestion, and what you thought was a high throughput satellite delivering a whole lot more megabytes to the region is all consumed. Right now there is not enough capacity in the market place,” he said.

One of MTN’s tactics to address this demand is using terrestrial broadband connections for ships near port. The satellite bandwidth they were using is then released back into a larger pool for ships further out at sea.

KVH Industries Commercial Sales Manager Steve Griffin said his company has looked to address this same issue by partnering with companies that would sometimes be considered competitors.

“KVH competitors can also be KVH partners. If they are delivering a big pipe of bandwidth to a remote drill ship but they want to not allow certain applications like Skype and Netflix that are intensively applications, our thought with IP MobileCast is ‘what if we could just deliver our network when it’s not being utilized to essential hard drives onboard the vessel that can be distributed out to 10, 20, 50, 100 different devices?’” he said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of KVH being able to do something better than a competitor, it’s a matter of KVH potentially having a solution that our competitors can be partners with.”

Carlos Nalda, counsel at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, expressed optimism regarding Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) satellite systems such as O3b Networks, which promise lower latency than satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO). But regulatory hurdles could present barriers to additional NGSO systems.

“The real question is, are we going to see additional bands come online? I’m not talking about lower throughput MSS satellite constellations but rather end use of broadband constellations potentially in Ku. It seems that there is some interest out there — you may have heard rumblings about Google and Facebook — but there are some challenges there. It’s not to suggest it can’t and won’t happen but, from an international regulatory standpoint and from a technology standpoint, there may be some challenges,” Nalda said.

Antenna technology too was an area he saw as having high potential for disruption, but regulations vary on terminal use from one country to the other. Some nations will draw lines between onshore and offshore use of a terminal, while some lack rules for them altogether.

David Liddle, CCO of UltiSat and Hakan Parker, CTO of Proactive Energy Solutions, both highlighted that cheaper solutions will not solve the problem either. Both cost of ownership and the ability to react quickly when technology breaks are paramount to making sure that the business case for satellite moves forward as the technology advances.

“If you are piping in millions of dollars worth of crude and all of a sudden your communications goes down, and it shuts down things for whatever reason, that is a huge cost,” said Liddle. “If you can’t put people out into the field that can respond immediately, the mean times to repair and respond have to be extremely right on spot because it costs the end user lots of money … it doesn’t matter whether it’s a high throughput Ka-band, Ku, C band or terrestrial — you have to be able to respond.”