Cobham Satcom Sees Promise in Land VSAT, Ka-band
[Via Satellite 07-17-2017] Cobham Satcom is increasing its focus on land terminals as a growth market, and sees potential for High Throughput Satellites (HTS) to be a catalyst for the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) industry. In doing so, the company is pooling Research and Development (R&D) from different product lines to provide new solutions, particularly in these areas.
Earlier this month Cobham Satcom released the Explorer 8100, an auto-acquire drive-away antenna for the land market that grafts in stability enhancements from the company’s maritime products. The new antenna has Ka and Ku band versions, and will be available starting October.
“Right now we are investing a lot of R&D into really stepping up when it comes to land VSAT antennas for basically all frequency bands,” Casper Jensen, vice president of business development at Cobham Satcom, told Via Satellite. “That’s very much building on the components we have put into the market the last three to five years.”
Jensen said much of the crossover builds in tracking algorithms, stabilization, and electronics from maritime products, where the environment is much more demanding, compared to land. The new Explorer 8100, for example, uses a carbon-fiber reflector, dynamic-pointing correction, and built-in Wi-Fi.
In HTS, Cobham Satcom has been designing offerings to go with Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) service. Inmarsat has two of the Ka-band HTS satellites in orbit, with a third pending based on the availability of the Proton rocket.
“We have had very limited focus on Ka-band up until now,” said Jensen. “That ties together with the fact that it has been limited with service providers really offering Ka-band services, but it is a growth area.”
With the third satellite, Inmarsat will be able to provide worldwide coverage, and expects this to be the tipping point leading up to annual GX revenues of $500 million by the fifth anniversary of global services. But for Cobham Satcom, Jensen said the HTS opportunity extends beyond Inmarsat.
“There is certainly a significant growth driver in HTS. [It is] really supporting the entire rollout in VSAT in general. I think, at the end of the day, the end customer will benefit from this because right now it’s not just the Global Xpress getting going. Intelsat and other service providers are stepping up and I think there will be a significant competition in HTS, which will only benefit the end user at the end of the day,” he said.
Jensen added that Cobham Satcom is currently investing a lot of capital into new technologies, while also seeking to leverage advances from different verticals. Of the company’s three main markets — land, maritime, and aeronautical — maritime leads the way in influencing other products.
In the aeronautical sector, the company is developing an Inmarsat service called Aviator-S for safety services, which also offers more than 400 Kbps data. Jensen said conflating features from other areas was the only way Cobham Satcom was able to develop the lightweight product with low power and high performance.
“We have seen a significant crossover when it comes to [aeronautical] L band. We are bringing a new L-band product into the market in 2016,” he explained. “The only reason we were able to do that is because of the crossover from land and maritime.”
Regarding hybrid antennas, Jensen said Cobham Satcom has found maritime customers prioritize other features more heavily that ensure continuity of service, and typically prefer to keep Ku-, Ka- and even L-band terminals separate. Not all service providers have taken this approach. MTN partnered with Skytech for a Ka/Ku dual band antenna last year, and Harris CapRock in February of this year unveiled Harris CapRock One, which uses VSATs equipped with advanced multiband antennas to enable transmit and receive in C, Ku, L or Ka band with no mechanical changes. Cobham Satcom’s Sea Tel 9711 Integrated Maritime Antenna (IMA) can operate in C- and Ku-band frequencies, and the company’s Sailor VSAT antennas have field upgrade kits for Ku and Ka.
Jensen said he sees hybrid antennas as more fitting for aviation, but cautions that connectivity here is still relatively nascent despite the hype, and that solutions will take time to gain traction. ViaSat, which has been developing a hybrid Ku/Ka antenna for its In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) service, recently signed Virgin America as its first commercial customer.