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Satellite Succeeding in an IP World

By | April 1, 2013

      IP rules. That has been the industry’s perception since IP terrestrial technology was introduced almost 40 years ago. Since then, it has become practically ubiquitous. The list of IP-supported products and services seems endless: modems are IP-enabled, as are many networks, smart grids, educational videos and security products. But, is there room for satellite technology in an IP-dominated world?

      Ever since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, satellite companies have played a critical role in communicating information worldwide. When IP came along in the 1990s, it may have captured the industry’s limelight, but didn’t steal satellite’s thunder. Despite IP’s flexibility, efficiencies and other key benefits, it can’t compete with satellite in remote areas without terrestrial networks or simultaneously broadcast videos to millions of consumers. So, many satellite providers are exploring hybrid approaches that combine the power of both technologies to satisfy consumer requirements in an on-demand world.

      Many of Cisco’s satellite partners are moving toward a hybrid approach, says Val Weiss, business development manager at the global networking company in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He says satellite has the ability to use the same open IP-architecture that the terrestrial world uses, which encourages ongoing innovation. However, some service providers still think of satellite and IP terrestrial networks as separate services, each with its own department and support staff. But by combining both technologies, providers can deliver the same experience to end-users. Picture this scenario: A remote employee at an oil and gas company streams a high definition video of a rig that is experiencing a problem and sends it to an expert in Houston to trouble-shoot. The expert transmits a blueprint to remote workers that identifies the problem’s location and explains how to fix it in a real time, engaging conversation. Everything is seamless. Everyone operates one system, whether out in the field or in an office.

      Weiss says such solutions transform the cost of delivery, enhancing the value of service providers. “That’s what we’re trying to do with satellite, really improve that user experience and open the door so they don’t have different offerings, different costs of ownership models between their terrestrial and satellite delivery,” says Weiss, adding training expenses also increase when employees use multiple systems.


      End Points and Game Changers

      Satellite providers must also consider whether or not they need to own every end point. Weiss explains that companies such as AT&T can’t afford to tell customers that they must download a specific application if they want to text on their new phone. In other situations, companies like Royal Caribbean are expecting more connectivity on their high-end fleet so passengers can use personal devices. In both cases, Weiss believes that companies have to monetize these services, enabling new business models.

      “Satellite doesn’t have to view itself as only an option of last resort, providing a network separate from terrestrial services,” says Weiss. “It has the ability to integrate and become a full part of terrestrial connectivity.”

      Cisco is not alone in developing crossbreed services or products. Newtec is also being asked to build hybrid networks that typically combine satellite technology with fiber and public IP, says Thomas Van den Driessche, director of vertical markets at Newtec, a global technology manufacturer based in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. “We’re asked more and more to build [hybrid] solutions around that type of infrastructure so we can exchange video and data in all kinds of different ways,” he says. “The need for dedicated satellite is diminishing in advanced video exchange networks.”

      Consider Newtec’s Multimedia Exchange Network Over Satellite (MENOS). With one foot in the terrestrial IP world – its injection points – and another that distributes content in the satellite world, Newtec’s video network offers broadband access and real time TV and radio exchange. Deployed in 2008, he says it operates in 28 Middle Eastern countries and has since evolved into a hybrid network that combines directional technology and satellite technology.

      Van den Driessche believes satellite vendors need to make very focused marketing choices. However, they can still deliver traditional services; especially to developing countries. “That still makes a lot of sense,” he says, noting that there will be a big demand for satellite in Africa until the continent catches up with terrestrial IP. “But, you can’t be blind.”

      He explains that niche applications for satellite seem to change every two years. According to Van den Driessche, using large IP pipes in developing countries made sense two years ago. Today, satellite backhauling for 3G networks is the best practice. The same holds true for Internet access on planes. Although it’s a major focus today, it won’t be two years from now when all commercial aircraft are Internet-enabled.

      Meanwhile, satellite service providers can learn a lot from the terrestrial world. Van den Driessche refers to two areas where satellite historically falls short: customer usage and bidirectional communication. Even government is using more IP-enabled devices.

      A good example is the U.S. Army, which used IP to improve its networks. It coined a new acronym, “everything over IP” (EOIP), which became the basis for its networks according to Ric VanderMeulen, vice president of government satellite communications at ViaSat.

      The Army’s primary network, Warfighter Information Network Tactical (WIN-T) has evolved so that its back office servers, tactical operations center, phones and PCs are native IP. VanderMeulen says his company is not trying to deliver satellite communication IP services but IP services. The difference in perspective, he says, can impact performance, growth and profits.

      “If you only think about sat IP as a means of last resort, you’ll only serve the remote person who’s unconnected,” he says. “If you take on sat IP as IP, you are actually competing with other terrestrial means, trying to offer the same quality of service, affordability, comparable speeds and, are therefore, trying to serve the market in total.”

      VanderMeulen says some satellite vendors who support this belief are going mainstream, delivering consumer broadband. “Anything that fiber can do, we also need to try to do,” he says. “One of our buzz [phrases] is, ‘feels like fiber.’ We want our performance to provide the same responsiveness as fiber.”


      “Not Spots”

      An important distinction to make is that satellite doesn’t compete with terrestrial, it complements it, says Dave Rehbehn, senior director, marketing, international division at Hughes, which provides high-speed Internet services and manufactures, designs and installs IP-based satellite networks.

      Consider the United States, which contains significant broadband gaps referred to as “not spots.”

      “We estimate that more than 10 million households in the United States alone have not spots or are not covered by high-speed terrestrial or wireless terrestrial networks,” says Rehbehn. “We’re a big believer that satellites can bring high quality IP broadband to the underserved as well as unserved.”

      Last year, Hughes launched EchoStar 17 with Jupiter high throughput technology, which contains over 100 Gbps of IP capacity to deliver high-speed IP services throughout the United States. The company’s VSAT technology also supports a dual IPv4 and IPv6 stack, enabling simultaneous support of mixed IPv4 and IPv6 traffic through its VSAT networks.

      Among the key features of IPv6 is its massive addressing space. Since the number of IP devices has risen, so has the need for addresses, which is expected to accelerate. In the near future, Rehbehn says that all types of devices will be networked, including common household items, such as refrigerators, ovens and other home appliances so they can be intelligently controlled. IPv6 enables a myriad of devices to each have its own unique address.

      Even utilities are currently installing smart meters with two-way connections that will eventually enable utilities to “talk” to appliances. Rehbehn says Hughes also began offering aeronautical broadband, partnering with Row 44, to provide in-flight broadband connectivity and wireless entertainment for commercial aircraft.

      But nothing is foolproof; not even fiber-based IP networks. He says terrestrial and satellite technologies must be combined to offer 100 percent network availability. Rehbehn adds that satellite is still relevant because of the world’s demand for connectivity. “IP networking, however, is driving that demand and has really driven our business in a big way.”


      Keeping Pace

      Although consumer broadband applies the best of both IP and high throughput spot beam architecture worlds, not every company wants to walk down that path. Intelsat’s marketing strategy has never been based on a specific technology, explains Peter Ostapiuk, vice president, media product management at Intelsat.

      “Our network services strategy has always been to provide connectivity to service providers that address particular market segments,” says Ostapiuk. “They’re sized and equipped to do that much better. It’s all about channel strategy. We don’t want to compete with our largest customers.”

      One big question mark is IP’s impact on broadcast. Is broadcast’s future secure, or is it diminishing to become just a chapter in world history?

      The answer depends on who you ask. Van den Driessche says that, although satellite broadcast activities are shrinking in some domains such as fast newsgathering, video demand is growing faster than terrestrial IP networks can handle. He says a merger of both technologies is needed for a “bigger, better functional network.”

      However, Ostapiuk believes that linear TV and video won’t disappear anytime soon. The results from Nielsen’s Three Screen Report show that TV watching increased by 1.2 percent from last year. Also, its pilot study featured in the Nielsen Cross-Platform Report revealed that 87.2 percent of people still watch live broadcasts.

      “When live video becomes available in simulcast fashion on all IP devices, only then you will potentially see less viewers watching programs via traditional TV,” says Ostapiuk.

      Besides, broadcast isn’t giving up without a fight. Pay-TV operators are developing virtual, social interactions opportunities for TV viewers. He explains that viewers will be able to watch TV shows with multiple people who are featured live via video on or near their screen. Ostapiuk also points out that there are choke points: if millions of people want to watch four- to six-megabytes per second of the Super Bowl at the same time on multiple IP-enabled devices, IP may not be able to deliver that last mile of connectivity.

      Years ago, Intelsat started building a fiber network and is migrating to MPLS and IP after realizing the need for point-to-point connectivity.

      “We believe there’s a demand for services that can deliver high throughput targeted content from point-to-point or to multipoint,” Ostapiuk says, adding that Intelsat’s new EpicNG satellite applies the concept of high throughput satellite and spot beams in the C- and Ku-band spectrum. “As you go into smaller and smaller markets, costs increase. But EpicNG, together with the inherent advantages of IP, allows content companies to regionalize their feeds more cost effectively and target their content to [specific] audiences.”

      Intelsat plans on providing distribution and contribution hybrid services that combine EpicNG with traditional wide beam satellite and terrestrial fiber services. Likewise, Inmarsat acquired Segovia in 2010, a secure managed network services provider to the U.S. government, primarily because of its IP-based technology and service delivery approach, according to Andy Beegan, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Inmarsat Government, which owns and operates a hybrid global satellite and terrestrial network, offers professional services, and mobile and fixed satellite communications solutions. The company implements broadcast IP technology for government data and video distribution, with application requirements bundled into a single service.

      Beegan believes the requirement for IP video is becoming the norm, as emerging technology enables more video to be transmitted in the same amount of spectrum at lower costs. As this migration unfolds, he envisions traditional video broadcast technologies being phased out.

      “IP offers service providers the ability to provide a host of products that have a lot of flexibility in the way they get delivered,” says Beegan. “It enables them to achieve quality of service mechanisms and have different levels of quality of service you can’t get with legacy technology, and gives you the ability to layer on security in a way you can’t do with legacy technology.”

      He believes many changes will occur in the government space. Distribution of video will become common, as will affordable HD transmission, the emergence of multi-dimensional imagery and high bandwidth applications delivered to soldiers with an antenna attached to their belt or backpack. Until then, IP offers two current challenges for satellite operators: the need to compete with its eroding prices and to adapt to a new service ecosystem, says Carlos Placido, senior analyst at NSR. He explains that the terrestrial world reduces prices fairly fast and that the role of satellite operators and satellite service providers are becoming blurred.

      One industry change, however, stands out above the rest. Conceived with IP in mind, Placido says high throughput satellites can offer micro broadcasts that deliver localized content to specific cities or regions. “Twenty years from now, satellite will still be relevant,” says Placido. “IP can live without satellite but satellite cannot live without IP. Satellite operators need to adapt to a new world.”