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In a previous post, I mused on bandwidth. This time I’m focusing on how remote users can receive more bandwidth.  The latest SATCOM system, Ka-band,  has been the talk of the industry for a while now.   This new frequency was first demonstrated with ACTS (NASA’s Advanced Communications Technology Satellite) in 1993, but hasn’t showed much steam until recently with…Yahsat, then Viasat Eutelsat, and Intelsat, and most recently Inmarsat’s Global Xpress. All promise to leverage new spectrum with greater capacity using new coding, lots of spot beams, and more adept frequency reuse.  Some providers are focusing on low-density markets promising ubiquity, while others are focusing on the areas where people actually are.

Industrial mysteries abound whether all of this new capacity will translate to lower cost of operation and most importantly happy customers.  One of our partners has taken the effort to write a solid whitepaper to clear the marketing murk found here.   It all boils down to Ka-band providing more bandwidth than what you may have been previously using, but maybe not working as well in the rain. Promising MORE for LESS is good, but not the whole story.

While C-band gave way to Ku-band, Ku will give way to Ka, but that doesn’t mean you need to relegate the Ku-band equipment to the dust-bin straight away.   I suspect that those prices will become competitive again given the new threat.  The math to determine Total Cost of Ownership will present the usual dilemma; spend now, save later, operational budgets vs. capital expenditures, etc.  The question of when the results become positive is all that remains.

Ka-band will not be a panacea in the same way the Ku-band has not been one. Sure, you will have a lower cost per bit, but I would say that is just marketing-speak. It is unlikely that your SATCOM services bill actually decreases. More value for money? No doubt. Lower spending? Little chance.

Unless it is TV, the military, or boats and planes, providing satellite communications to low population areas is challenging economically.  Somebody has to pay, and you might as well focus your signals where people are instead of where they are not.   Chasing a low-density market has been the downfall of many a constellation that attempt to serve anyone and everywhere. These providers don’t actually fall down, they just go bankrupt, transfer ownership, and keep kicking.

Regardless, my prognostication is that a patchwork of satellite coverage that offers user mobility is likely the best real answer for future services to mobile users.  Several companies offer this approach for all market segments, and I would expect these patchworks to proliferate as satellites are launched and more terminals emerge to satisfy users.  The economics of these systems are also incremental compared to full constellations. Some patchwork systems will evolve to offer both Ka and Ku for ease of equipment transition and customer retention.  In the end, new services will create new applications, more customers, and drive growth for the SATCOM industry.

-Steve Newell

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