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New Generation of Satellites Promises to be a Game-Changer

[ 0 ] June 10, 2013 |

High Throughput Satellites are capable of handling two to twenty times the data of current satellites. Implications range from downward pricing pressure to a potential shortcut to the web for billions of people…

Artist rendering of KA SAT's focused beams.

Artist rendering of Eutelsat’s KA SAT, with focused beams.

By Gary Thatcher
BBG Office of Strategy and Development

A new generation of satellites – some to be launched this year – promise to dramatically expand wireless connectivity to new areas of the earth, at substantially lower costs.

These so-called “high throughput satellites” (HTS) have the potential to revolutionize communications, especially in underserved rural areas and the developing world.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors and other international broadcasters are constantly evaluating new methods to deliver news, information and entertainment to audiences across the world. In many cases, satellites are the best – if not the only – option. But until recent years, buying time on satellites and purchasing receivers to pick up the signals has been a fairly expensive (and somewhat complicated) process.

David Hartshorn, the Executive Director of the Global VSAT Forum (GVF), predicts an accelerating trend towards lower prices for satellite time and cheaper, simpler receivers on the ground.

He notes that one of these new HTS satellites launched by Viasat, Inc. last year offers the same data capacity as all the satellites currently serving North America. “This,” he says, “is game changing.”

GVF recently sponsored a roundtable in Washington, DC, which drew some of the biggest names in the satellite industry to learn more about the technology – and to size up what the competition is planning.

ViaSat 1

Viasat 1

Based on the presentations and conversations on the sidelines, the race to launch more of these satellites is well underway.

Eutelsat promotes its KA SAT system – featuring 82 focused “spot beams” over Europe and the Mediterranean – as offering Internet speeds comparable to some hard-wired systems. A partner company, Tooway, promises “fast internet everywhere” for consumers.

Intelsat is touting its new Epic satellites, due for launch in 2015 and 2016, offering “three to five times” more capacity per satellite.

So far, these satellites have been launched mainly over countries with the market demand to support them. But the technology holds out promise for even more radical change in the developing world.

By using focused spot beams, targeting customers and population centers rather than wasting energy and bandwidth over vast stretches of desert, forests or jungles, satellite operators expect to help developing countries “leapfrog” the need to even bother with wired internet connections.

One of the more intriguing entrants is O3bNetworks. “O3b” is an acronym for the “other 3 billion” people on earth without access to the Web, either because of location, lack of infrastructure, buying power – or all of these factors. The O3b satellites are smaller, which reduces launch costs. And they are configured specifically to connect local Internet service providers with the larger World Wide Web. (Google is one of the company’s financial backers.)

In fact, all of the new HTS satellites are designed with two-way broadband service in mind. That, in turn, will likely mean a major shift in the way international broadcasters interact with audiences.

These new high throughput satellites “should not replicate the unipolar internet model in space,” says Vern Fotheringham, CEO of Kymeta, Inc., which specializes in antenna systems specifically adapted for mobile internet-by-satellite.

The new satellites “are not [built upon] a broadcast model,” he says, but rather “consumer-centric,” providing audiences with multiple choices, and the capability to interact – wherever and whenever they go.

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Category: Ideas and Innovation

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