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NSR: Phased Array Antennas Worth $710 Million By 2025, ‘Critical’ for LEO Success

By Caleb Henry | February 5, 2016

      [Via Satellite 02-05-2016] Flat Panel Antennas (FPAs) promise to unlock numerous market opportunities for the satellite industry, if and when their prices and capabilities reach the level of widespread commercial acceptance. Northern Sky Research (NSR), in what it describes as the first multi-client report on FPAs, anticipates shipped units could produce more than $710 million in annual sales by 2025.

      The genesis of FPAs came from military requirements more than a decade ago for vehicular Comms-On-The-Move (COTM), but the antennas produced were far too costly for most other markets. Most of this demand came from the U.S. military, with some adoption in Europe and the Middle East as well. Today this technology is transitioning and evolving as producers discover new ways to create more capable and cost effective second-generation technology.

      “We have seen that the antennas themselves have really been enabled today because of various advances that are coming together at the same time,” Claude Rousseau, research director and report co-author at NSR, told Via Satellite. “One of them is materials; the other is electronics, and what we are seeing also is that these antennas are benefiting a lot from markets that were previously difficult to attain. It is going to enable more markets to be developed.”

      Rousseau said NSR profiled about a dozen different companies creating new phased array antenna systems. He estimated that 75 percent are in the U.S. These companies are coming up with different products to address markets in their own way.

      “It is understood that there is no one antenna design that fits the bill for every vertical market,” added Prateep Basu, NSR analyst and report co-author.  “But as everyone’s designs are different, the target markets are different.”

      Rousseau said NSR split the market for FPAs into two forecasts: mobility, which includes aeronautical satcom, maritime and land mobile; and fixed service, which covers stationary broadband communications and Direct-to-Home (DTH) television.

      “We found that aeronautical, which is already kind of an established market by now, is the one that is going to drive the most growth in terms of revenue,” said Basu.

      NSR suspects that the area with the least potential impact from FPAs is residential applications.

      “Consumer-oriented broadband antennas need to have a certain very low price point and in particular for DTH, where we feel that the main pressure on that market is related to the cost of the antenna,” said Rousseau.

      FPAs are often touted for their potential to introduce satellite connectivity in entirely new markets, or in greater amounts within existing markets. For the new high throughput Low Earth Orbit (LEO) telecommunications constellations under development, NSR describes FPAs as absolutely vital.

      “It’s imperative really. The attractiveness of those antennas will be much higher, and particularly for broadband markets. If these do not come to fruition I don’t see the business case closing for LEOs,” Rousseau remarked.

      He added that investments are already so high that if the ground segment for emerging LEO systems is too costly or cumbersome, they will only be able to tap a small portion of their target market. The reason being, a LEO satellite crosses the horizon in about 10 minutes, meaning antennas on the ground have to track them precisely, with great accuracy, and switch often.

      “A mechanically steered antenna cannot gimbal that fast,” explained Basu. “It has to be electronically steered flat antennas. If this is not happening then you won’t get seamless connectivity and that seamless connectivity is what the customer wants.”

      Rousseau said all the operators designing LEO constellations today are working with FPA manufacturers. In a previous interview, Phasor CEO Dave Helfgott reiterated this point, saying LEO operators are in discussions with the company about its phased array antennas. Similarly, Kymeta’s former CEO Vern Fotheringham, during his time as CEO of LeoSat, told Via Satellite he intended to be a customer of Kymeta’s antenna systems. Since then, LeoSat’s new CEO said the company would consider more than just Kymeta, potentially looking at Phasor and/or others for its ground segment.

      Rousseau said NSR anticipates second-generation FPAs will start to see significant commercial traction in two to three years. In the meantime, partnerships between developers and other companies should help guide their products. Kymeta has partnerships with Intelsat, Toyota, Panasonic, Inmarsat, Intellian and Airbus Defence and Space to tap new markets, and with Sharp for production. Phasor teamed with Intelsat as well, along with OmniAccess.

      “The partnerships and deals those antenna makers have made with service providers or satellite operators are also very important. They actually are the road to market for many,” said Rousseau.