Latest News

Hybrid Satellite Networks

By | December 8, 2008

      Hybrid networks involving IP and satellite technologies are now becoming much more prevalent around the globe, as the advent of IP is allowing both networking technologies to complement each other more and more.
          “IP makes it possible to run different applications — voice, video, and data — all on the same network, and this carries important advantages for service providers because there is only one network to manage and provide training for,” said David Bettinger, chief technology officer, iDirect. “From the consumer’s point of view, there is only one vendor and one bill to pay. In reality, every satellite network is now a hybrid. A satellite terminal is either used as an edge connection or as the middle-mile approach with terrestrial circuits on either end. Satellite networks almost always terminate back into a terrestrial network.”
          Certain sectors have been driving change. “Retailers started with terrestrial but then transitioned to VSAT to get more bandwidth,” said Bettinger. “They’re discovering that satellite technology has some powerful benefits in an IP-based world and are finding new ways to utilize satellite systems. You can’t multicast data across an MPLS network. MPLS will support this in the future but not now. Overlaying a terrestrial network with satellite allows retailers to develop and rollout creative new applications.”
          Other industries have also benefited. “The oil and gas sector has always been a leader in satellite communications,” Bettinger said. “Energy companies operate huge terrestrial networks but they also have drilling rigs and vehicles that move around which require broadband communications. Satellite technology enhances corporate connectivity for these organizations. Secondly, the U.S. military is another example where satellite and terrestrial networks complement each other. The U.S. Department of Defense has embraced the concept of network-centric warfare. Situational awareness on the battlefield is becoming more important and satellite communications allows field commanders to send video back to headquarters in real time.”
          The addition of IP technology is just another stage in the evolution of networks, said Mike Cook, senior vice president, Hughes Network Systems. “Satellite service providers have a long history of providing hybrid networks. Originally shared VSAT hubs relied on point-to-point backhaul circuits to connect to their client’s data centers. When Hughes began offering shared hub services we were faced with the same challenge. In order to provide a complete solution we had to provision terrestrial bandwidth. Over time, shared hub networks became much more complicated. A good example is BP’s retail point of sale network, which involves two different hubs, two different satellites and multiple backhauls to and from different data centers as well as suppliers and end users.”
          In terms of cost benefits, Cook said, “Terrestrial telephone companies are driving their customers to MPLS networks. Typically the local connection is a fractional T1 circuit, which is single thread. It is also expensive, with a typical circuit in the $400 to $600 per month per site. If backup is desired, the price jumps up in the $500 to $700 range. Compare that to $200 to $300 per month for a DSL circuit and VSAT,” he said.
          “We are really a managed service provider, not just a transport provider,” said Cook. “When you break that mindset we realized that we can provide additional services to our clients. We signed contracts with leading terrestrial carriers, which allowed us to provide the appropriate transport to our enterprise customers.”
          O3b Networks is developing a new constellation of medium Earth orbit satellites which will be designed to deliver low-latency satellite bandwidth to developing nations. Almost exclusively, the bandwidth will interconnect with a terrestrial network of some type, including ISPs and cellular networks. “There are three billion people who don’t have Internet access. There isn’t a shortage of last mile technologies. The problem is the first 5,000 miles,” said Mike Serrano, O3b’s director of marketing. “There is no fiber or microwave infrastructure to connect to. O3b intends to fill this void and provide affordable, low-latency, high bandwidth to emerging markets. The low latencies will allow O3b to provide fiber-like performance. This allows us to backhaul cellular traffic with very little delay.”
          Each of O3b’s satellites, to be built by Thales Alenia Space, can deliver up to 12 gigabits per second of capacity. The satellites will cover a large number of emerging markets, and STM-1 circuits that cost less than $1,000 per month would be available on long-term contracts, roughly one-third the price of an equivalent circuit on a geosynchronous satellite, said Serrano. “Our design gives us the best coverage at the best price-performance ratio,” he said. “Our mission is to be an IP transport company. Since our main clientele will be telecommunication providers, all of our bandwidth will be incorporated into hybrid networks of some kind. Our services will allow developing countries to build out cellular and Internet infrastructures quickly and affordably.”

      Interested in more IP?
      Join SATELLITE 2009 for IPTV: Market Assessment on Thursday, March 26!
      IPTV operators have many, many options when it comes to delivering their content. What are the standards for IPTV networks and what do equipment manufacturers need to provide to meet the market demand? Register today – Early Bird discounts end December 17!