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Ovzon CEO: “We are Revolutionizing Mobile Broadband”

By Adrienne Harebottle | November 5, 2018
Ovzon CEO Per Wahlberg Photo: Jonas Eng

Ovzon CEO Per Wahlberg Photo: Jonas Eng

In 2014, Ovzon launched its end-to-end mobile broadband satellite service. But as it so happens, the U.S. and Swedish-based company was destined to transition from a service provider to satellite operator. Today, the company is in the final stages of the procurement of its first Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite, which will be launched by SpaceX. Following an agreement announced in mid-October with the rocket launcher, Ovzon’s first-ever lift-off is scheduled for the last quarter of 2020 on board the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

Ovzon has in total six orbital locations for the global deployment of its service, and the company’s plan is to populate all six slots, said its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Per Wahlberg.

“We see our unique end-to-end mobile broadband satellite service as a complementary offering to that provided by other operators. We meet the demand in a specific niche, although we believe the size of this niche, mobile broadband, to be large and growing. Therefore, we foresee that we will continue to provide our service via other operators or service providers,” said Wahlberg.

While mobility services often equate a Ka-band satellite, Ovzon’s fleet is Ku-band. The reason for not taking the somewhat expected Ka-band route, explained Wahlberg, is to avoid the challenges associated with Ka implementation. These involve “additional losses on all levels” including substantially greater rain loss, additional atmospheric attenuation and scintillation effects, among others.

“Additionally, waveguides or cables have higher losses per unit length, lower antenna efficiency and lower amplifier efficiency, that being, more heat per Radio Frequency (RF) power, which is not optimal in mobile applications. Then there is additional pointing loss due to more narrow mail lobe for similar pointing mechanisms, as well as more loss in antennas during rain due to wet antenna effects,” said Wahlberg.

Ovzon’s upcoming fleet is not of High Throughput Satellites (HTS), where HTS is commonly understood as having a large total amount of accumulated bandwidth in the satellite, however, it still achieves a high throughput in the sense that high data rates are transmitted from very small ground terminals.

“Our satellites will be purpose built, specifically to provide the highest data rates from the smallest terminal sizes with high link availability,” said Wahlberg. “All footprints will be steerable so it can be moved into the areas of need rather than to have fixed coverage.”

Ovzon’s service enables Mobile Satellite Sized-terminals (MSS), about the size of a laptop, with high data rates at a low cost, explained Wahlberg. Once the Ovzon satellites are operational, the company expects to see significantly increased performance with greater strategic coverage achieved through the steerable beams. It will also have the addition of new features to fulfill important customer requirements as well as a single hop, small-to-small terminal including an advanced On-Board Processor (OBP) that the company is currently developing. Once integrated, the OBP will also route traffic, lower latency and reduce the need of bandwidth.

Customers and co-operation

Customers needing mobility can easily be found spanning all segments, said Wahlberg, but the company will keep its focus heavily on government applications.

Ovzon’s satellite-based mobile broadband applications include real-time sensor and video upload, either from moving or highly mobile platforms, including small vehicles, small aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or transmissions directly from on-site staff holding the terminals and transmitting on-the-go.

“We designed our service to be able to simultaneously meet a number of customer core requirements. For mobility, we have the smallest form factor of the terminal, and offer On-the Pause (OTP) or On-the-Move (OTM). The service is also able to transmit and receive high data rates while having a high link availability, meaning it should work in a variety of weather conditions. Then, of course, we’ve ensured that it’s low cost and offers ease of use,” said Wahlberg.

Viewing the service as complementary to other offerings means that Ovzon’s business model is one of co-operation rather than competition. This does not mean, however, that the company believes that it is immune to opposition, added Wahlberg. And if and when competition should happen, the company is well positioned to compete.

“One could argue that as many other offerings out there are quite the same in terms of performance, as seen by the customer based on the customer experience, this forces the price to be the main, if not the only competitive differentiator. But our differentiating advantage is that our service has a unique performance: enabling small terminals that are capable of transmitting high data rates as well as unique features enabled through the OBP,” explained Wahlberg.

For the business model that Ovzon is following, the main part will focus on bulk sales, where terminals, and gateway and backbone connectivity is bundled together, said Wahlberg, noting that the system is also prepared for per minute data rate sales or transferred byte sales.

“We are revolutionizing mobile broadband. This has been validated through our current service since 2014. Today, we already provide what we believe to be the highest data rates through the smallest ground terminals. The performance will significantly increase once we have our payloads including our On-Base Percentage (OBP) up and operational,” said Wahlberg.

With its service differentiated, Ovzon’s outlook is very positive, explained Wahlberg, adding that other similarGeostationary (GEO) services will likely face greater competition-related challenges.

“It’s reasonable to assume that GEO services with similar offerings, as seen from the customer perspective where the customer interface to the service is the terminal, the given performance, or the terms and conditions, will suffer from a tougher competitive environment directly impacting on the price levels. However, regarding the outlook for our own unique service offering using smaller purpose-built satellites for the specific purpose of mobile broadband, is positive,” said Wahlberg.

Why not LEO?

While competition between GEO operators and service providers poses challenges, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are not without their share of difficulties, said Wahlberg. Looking back to year 2000, one can recall the large effort to push LEO constellations. At the same time, there were numerous challenges surrounding this. Today, many of these same challenges remain valid, explained Wahlberg. This is because they have to do with eternal natural laws or natural phenomena, he said, and have an effect on business, technical issues, regulation, and finance.

“On the business side, much of the Earth is uninhabited, resulting in few or no paying customers. [Consider] its seas, desert, tundra, or steppe land. Therefore, a LEO project requiring many satellites due to the Earth’s rotation and the revolving satellites will in that sense be very inefficient. Perhaps it’s a bit of an unfair analogy, but it’s a little bit like setting up 5G network for a tribe in the Sahara. Even if technically possible, one can still argue whether it’s a sound business idea or not,” said Wahlberg.

The technical issues are related to handover of terminals, explained Wahlberg, adding that the level of challenge is determined by the method used. On the regulatory side, the challenge lies in the fact that GEO satellites have protection while LEO satellites do not, he said.

“Financially, the large amount of LEO satellites needed will add up to quite a high amount, then there is the maintenance as well as that the replacement rate will be significantly higher,” he said.

With a positive outlook for the company as well as the satellites in their final stages of procurements coupled with their launch already in the bag, Wahlberg has a lot to look forward to. The final quarter of year 2020 will mark a significant milestone for Ovzon, and possibly another stage in the revolution of mobile broadband.