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High Throughput Satellites: A Growing Opportunity in Asia

By Katie Kriz | May 14, 2014

      Asia is one of the most vibrant regions for satellite communications. However, the future for High Throughput Satellites is open to question. With rain fade more of an issue in Asia compared to other regions, will these satellites ever have the impact they have had in other parts of the world?

      VS_Asia_050114_CoverHigh Throughput Satellites (HTS) have been a topic of debate in Asia for years. With the ability to provide significantly more throughput than a classic FSS satellite, these multiple spot beam satellites deliver reduced cost-per-bit, increased capacity and high-quality broadband Internet service.

      Currently, the only operating HTS in Asia is Thaicom’s Ipstar 1 satellite, also known as the Thaicom 4. Launched in 2005, the satellite specializes in bringing high-frequency broadband service to underserved regions.

      “HTS has made a significant impact in Asia in strengthening its infrastructure to cater for broadband in underserved areas and where nationwide networks are required,” says Patompob ‘Nile’ Suwansiri, Thaicom’s vice president of marketing and sales for the Southeast Asia Region. “This is especially true in our region where it is geographically diverse such as the archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.”

      Newsat is currently working on the Jabiru 1 satellite, which has an HTS payload of 7 GHz of Ka-band capacity. This satellite is not technically a high throughput satellite, but it does have similar capacity and bandwidth to HTS. Jabiru 1 is not focused on consumer broadband like most HTS, but instead if focused on enterprise and telco-grade communications. The satellite is expected to launch on an Arianespace rocket in the second half of 2015. David Ball, CTO of Newsat, says the company is providing “raw capacity to our customers rather than a specified managed service.”

      “In our vertical, all customers are different so we need to make sure that we have a flexible approach to that conversation rather than trying to force them into a specific managed service, a specific service type. So we may end up some managed services to customers, but as a general standing point we’re talking about raw capacity by the MHz,” says Ball.

      With only one HTS in orbit and one other being designed, the Asia-Pacific region still has a long way to go in terms of attaining high levels of HTS technology. However, no matter how you look at it, executives from the major players in the industry agree that HTS technology will highly benefit the Asian region.

      “There is an absolute need for HTS platforms in the region,” Terry Bleakley, regional vice president of Asia Pacific sales at Intelsat says. “The capacity provided by HTS will enable new applications and solutions in every sector — broadcasting, cellular backhaul, broadband and mobility.”

      William Wade, president and CEO of AsiaSat, says that although there is certainly a market and a need for HTS in Asia, he expects the take up to be slower than it has been in other parts of the world. “We certainly feel that high throughput satellites will be something that will emerge in the future, but we still think in Asia it’s going to be a little slower than other parts of the world simply because the business models have not yet been fully defined at this stage,” he says. But Suwansiri disagrees, saying he expects the development of HTS to be faster than other regions. “This is due to the combination of the lack of terrestrial infrastructure and the high adoptability of technology in the region and the continual demand for higher and higher bandwidth,” he says.

      Mohamed Youssif, COO of ABS, though he agrees that HTS will benefit the area when used in the right way, believes it is more important to focus on the type of application needed rather than the region it will be in. For HTS, according to Youssif, it is imperative to find an application that works, and works well.

      “We have a different view on HTS. I know it’s a kind of wagon and everybody is jumping on, and we feel that there is a certain application that this might be good for, but the majority of the usage will not be that way. It’s related not necessarily to a market but more to an application,” Youssif says. “So if what is needed is high-speed Internet via satellite, probably HTS would go regardless of what the region is. If you’re talking about cellular backhaul, then really we don’t believe that HTS will have much in that kind of application. If you’re talking about DTH, again high throughput is not going to be the thing. So it’s more or less the application, where is the application going to be used rather than in what region it will be used … So we’re still skeptical about HTS a little bit in its current form.”

      However, markets in China, Australia and India could benefit from the use of HTS for applications in sectors including broadband, commercial, mobile, public transit and aviation. Many executives agree that these markets, among others, would benefit exponentially from the high bandwidth provided by these satellites.

      “HTS will enable growth in all markets and sectors throughout the region. For example, the ability to use satellite to cost-effectively expand cellular backhaul and enterprise networks will have an immediate impact in countries where terrain limits the ability to expand terrestrially, enabling operators to enhance the reach and power of their networks and provide benefits to the end users,” says Bleakley. “In the broadcast sector, channels can be customized for a specific region and beam. Spot beams and frequency reuse provide greater throughput and drive lower cost per Mbps, changing the economic model for delivering localized content — by country, region, language and even culture — and increasing Average Revenue per User (ARPU).”

      So why is there still a delay in getting these satellites into the region? Executives that spoke to But what about rain fade and regulation? These two major issues have an equally critical impact on the successful implementation of HTS in the region. Rain fade is an environmental factor that occurs in regions with heavy amounts of rainfall and has a significant impact on the high frequencies HTS provide. This can cause significant blackout periods in the satellite’s signal, resulting in spotty service for customers.

      Rain Fade

      Rain fade is really only an issue with frequencies of Ka-band. Ball says the industry will have to create a design around this issue, which is something that has happened before.

      “You do have to allow and design for rain fade at the high frequencies,” says Ball. “The industry’s been through this when we made the transition from C-band to Ku-band 20 years ago … people just couldn’t get the idea of using a frequency that has rain fade associated with it because C-band generally doesn’t. But Ku-band has grown to be accepted. People understand that technology, the ground segment providers, the modem manufacturers have engineered around that with the Adaptive Coded Modulation (ACM).”

      ACM allows the link to slow down in power and speed once it hits rain fade, then pick up speed again once the rain fade clears. These systems, according to Ball, have “really enabled rain fade to be taken out of the equation” for Ku-band. But as far as Ka-band goes, the industry is still trying to find a solution.

      “At the high frequencies of Ka-band, you run into those problems. So when you get down in the equatorial areas where you have these very heavy rainy seasons, you will have significant blackout periods. And these outages, depending on what type of services you have, may be tolerable for non-essential services, but it’s going to be very difficult for people to put essential services on these types of networks if you’re not able to deal with the rain fade,” says Wade. “In our view, we think there will be certain markets in Asia where Ka-band high throughput will find applications that are very applicable, that will be able to use the benefits and advantages of HTS to a real advantage, but those types of applications will be applications that are specifically designed for HTS.”

      But Wade also says that even if rain fade wasn’t an issue, the region still has to create the applications that will be supported by these satellites. He expects more traditional applications such as video and basic telecommunications to remain on the standard frequencies for the time being. However, applications for markets like aviation and other transportation modes will find more of a need for the frequencies HTS can provide.

      “There’s still a lot of research and analysis that’s being done now, but you could look at areas like China, central Asia, Australia, and certain parts of India; these areas don’t have serious problems with rain fade but the issue then boils down to what type of applications,” says Wade. “And you might find applications for broadband connectivity, for commercial enterprises; you might find mobile applications that could utilize these high throughput satellites for public transportation; you’ll find opportunities for mobile applications for aviation, because obviously that doesn’t have rain fade issues because you’re traveling typically above the cloud cover.”

      Currently, as the only HTS in the region, Thaicom’s Ipstar 1 satellite, according to Suwansiri, performs well when considering rain fade. When designing the satellite, Thaicom engineers took those environmental issues into account and they were able to create a network architecture that has “exceeded customers’ expectations” in terms of dealing with issues that come from rain fade.

      “Rain fade can have an impact on services in certain bands, which is why we stress to customers that they should not base their HTS platform choice solely on the spectrum use,” says Suwansiri. “C-band and Ku-band are much more resistant to rain fade issues than Ka-band, so systems like EpicNG that are spectrum agnostic allow network operators and broadcasters to tailor their solutions and adapt to any potential raid fade issues.”

      But Wade says Ipstar is “ahead of its time.”

      “It has really struggled over the years to gain traction for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was that when it was first developed, it was developed to provide low cost satellite connectivity, but what ended up happening when it was finally launched and operating, it had been designed to provide services in many of the urban areas and by the time it was up and running DSL and other terrestrial services has been quite well-established within the urban areas,” he says.

      Wade continued to talk about how regions outside of the urban areas he mentioned, which would be more inclined to use satellite services, struggle with disposable income, which creates a challenge for the Ipstar 1 and HTS in general.

      Regulatory Concerns

      Regulatory concerns are another issue that HTS has to overcome in the region, and they are currently playing a large role in whether or not the region can support these satellites. According to Wade, many countries in Asia have highly regulated and restricted local telecommunications in order to protect local markets. While there usually are not any difficulties within borders, the challenge, Wade said, comes when services begin jumping borders.

      “There will be landing right restrictions, there will be cross-border restrictions where you’ll not be able to provide services across borders. I think in every single market, if you’re providing basic telecommunications and broadband, you’ll have to have the proper licenses and gaining licenses for these types of services. In many places in Asia it’s a long, drawn out and, in many cases, a difficult process,” says Wade.

      Suwansiri agrees that regulatory issues are a major concern when considering HTS in the Asia-Pacific region. “It has to be dealt with uniquely from one market to another,” says Suwansiri. “Ipstar has placed strategic importance in this area and has successfully established local strategic partners in markets across Asia-Pacific.”

      Cross-border restrictions make providing services based on HTS a challenging endeavor in the region. Ball says regulatory matters in multi-national regions are some of the most difficult issues to deal with in the industry. Between each country’s local restrictions and laws, the transfer of content from one country to another on the same bandwidth can be virtually impossible to achieve.

      “It’s down to a local licensing issue for telecommunications,” says Ball. “The license to serve consumers directly is obviously a license given to a local service provider, and often you’ll see that the conditions on those licenses, the content must be uplinked from within the country. You see that, for example, in India with the Direct-to-Home (DTH) television services, you can’t broadcast a DTH service from outside its borders; it must be uplinked from within India so they can have content control and regulation on censorship and unsavory content can be regulated. And you see that in many markets on the television side, and I believe it also applies on the Internet side where governments are concerned about things that are coming from outside their borders that can be either from a political point of view or from a censorship and content point of view.” The idea of HTS in the Asia-Pacific region has been picking up steam over the last several years, but there is still a long way to go as far as Wade is concerned. When it comes to developing HTS, AsiaSat is holding back for the time being. Instead of jumping in and launching a high throughput satellite, he says the company will take it step-by-step.

      “I don’t believe that we as a company, and many other companies, will just launch HTS with the idea that when we put it up customers will come to us and have applications,” says Wade. “I think what we will do, as we look at HTS development from an AsiaSat perspective, is we will take it slowly. We’ll put maybe a payload on a standard satellite that would be able to service a particular market and provide the capacity needed for a specific application or a specific need rather than dedicating an entire satellite to HTS and hoping that multiple locations will have a requirement. I think we’ll design out satellites specifically to meet the needs of a specific market and an application.” VS