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Satellite Communications: From Niche to Next

By Dave Bettinger | April 21, 2014

      The satellite industry is at a critical inflection point. We’re poised to expand beyond niche status and play a broader, more vital role in global communications. Years of solid, continuous technology innovation have brought us here, leading to the growth of High Throughput Satellites (HTS).With the promise of better economics and a better user experience, HTS will open vast new opportunities. But beyond that, HTS is the springboard that will ultimately take satellite mainstream. We’re well on our way to a much larger market for satellite, and greater relevance for our industry, if we stay focused on the right priorities.

      The first is simply to deliver on the promise of HTS, which will have a profound impact on how our industry operates. We need to make smart, strategic adjustments to fully capitalize on the opportunity. That means making sure we’re developing the right technology infrastructure now; an infrastructure capable of enabling and supporting new business models that can leverage the true value of HTS.

      A critical part of getting HTS right is taking user experience to the next level, particularly for mobility. Traditionally, coverage has been tied to either one satellite or the particular network of a single provider. HTS spot-beam architectures change that by introducing significantly more beams to integrate across smaller coverage areas. This adds new complexities to how a continuous service is delivered over a large geographic expanse.

      Mobility is a high value market that can lead to much broader exposure for satellite if we succeed in making satellite as easy to use and manage in a mobility environment as cellular service. It’s a tall order, requiring satellite operators and service providers to share an open access network that enables users to leverage the best capacity available based on location.

      Integrate with the Core Telecom Network

      As we strengthen satellite technology and improve capacity economics, ultimately we must integrate with core telecom networks. Telecom customers are demanding constant connectivity across every device and in any location. They expect high-quality, reliable service every time they connect.

      Tomorrow’s network is going to require a wider range of access technologies that must all work together seamlessly to meet end user requirements. The goal is one fully converged, end-to-end network, and satellite has a distinct role to play through inherent capabilities like reach, resiliency and mobility.

      Satellite must operate right alongside these access technologies, tying seamlessly into the unified core network on the access and management layers. Traffic needs to flow smoothly over satellite just like it does over any other core access technology, and satellite technology must be just as simple to deploy and operate.

      If satellite is to assume a vital role in the converged network, we need to make our technology even more valuable. This starts with improving terminal costs, making satellite networks more affordable to scale and manage while increasing operational efficiency and productivity. We must also tie the management of ground segment and satellite together to reach greater levels of capacity optimization.

      Cost is just table stakes, though. We have to raise our game to better leverage our unique competitive advantages. For instance, that might mean providing the ability to develop tailored applications that meet specific customer needs; picture an easy-to-use self-service app designed to automate essential functions needed for the business.

      Continue to Improve the User Experience

      Integrating into core networks is just part of the story. We’ve got to deliver a truly exceptional user experience. This means enabling full scale adoption across customers with absolutely no previous experience using satellite. The measure of our success is simple: their experience, beginning to end, must feel identical to terrestrial service.

      I know great things are in store for satellite, but only if we maintain the discipline and determination to commit to shared priorities. We need to think bigger as an industry to understand how every facet of the telecommunications business operates and develop our technology in lock step with their requirements. We need to examine our unique advantages with fresh eyes and determine how we can capitalize on our strengths. In the end, how well we collaborate may very well be the deciding factor in determining our place in the broader telecom network of the future.