[Via Satellite 02-08-2016] Intelsat sees the recent launch of its first High Throughput Satellite (HTS), Intelsat 29e, as the beginning of an interoperable satellite ecosystem between the operator’s own spacecraft and OneWeb’s future Low Earth Orbit (LEO) system. Launched on Jan. 27, Intelsat 29e is the first in the Intelsat EpicNG HTS family. Seven Intelsat EpicNG satellites are currently planned, with the second, Intelsat 33e, scheduled for launch in the second half of this year. Interoperability is a major component of Intelsat EpicNG, both with existing satellites and those of the company’s entrepreneurial partner. Intelsat has made interoperability a priority in order to create a layered, scalable system with different satellites.
Kurt Riegelman, SVP of sales and marketing at Intelsat, told Via Satellite that Intelsat started down the path to having global coverage with Ku-band wide beams eight years ago. That process is complete today, which has enabled the company to support more customers particularly in mobility markets, such as aeronautical and maritime. Completing this step also allows the company to shift focus to overlaying different kinds of capacity on top of this global fabric.
“The next step is to put in Intelsat EpicNG and build that high throughput layer for places where we see the traffic demand increasing, being more dynamic and having more requirements over time,” said Riegelman. “And then the next step in that evolution is the investment we made in OneWeb where we can now add a LEO level of Ku-band — because this is all driving into that frequency set — so that we can react quickly to changing ship routes near the poles, so that we can bring more capacity to routes where there is even more traffic than we expected, and use that as an excellent tool to help us manage a hybrid service to our customers.”
Intelsat EpicNG delivers C- and Ku-band capacity. Undergirding Intelsat’s ambitions to leverage multiple satellite systems is the need to respond quickly to changes in demand. Riegelman said both wide beam and Intelsat EpicNG satellites essentially constitute 15-year bets, and usage patterns can change during that time. Intelsat EpicNG’s digital payload, described by manufacturer Boeing as the most advanced on the market, allows connectivity in any bandwidth increment from beam to beam, providing greater adaptability for customer’s network configuration and topology.
Riegelman said discussions with customers about what they would need over the next five to seven years influenced Intelsat EpicNG. This culminated in providing increased flexibility for customers to better adapt to changing market demands. Going forward he expects Intelsat’s partnership with OneWeb to expand the range of services Intelsat can provide.
“I had one person tell me when we first announced OneWeb, ‘oh you’ve given up on Intelsat EpicNG.’ I said ‘no, what are you talking about?’ We have always said that we are developing a multifaceted solution — the requirements are varied, and we don’t believe there is a single solution — you need multiple tools in the tool set. There is widebeam, there is Intelsat EpicNG, and now there is OneWeb. And there are other technologies that we are going to incorporate as well,” said Riegelman.
Riegelman said Intelsat is working with OneWeb on boxes and components that will function with both fleets. Closing links with connected cars in urban environments and providing connectivity to ships in polar regions are areas Riegelman said OneWeb will likely deliver a better experience than a geostationary spacecraft. He said those discussions are happening now to enable seamless interoperability when OneWeb enters service, which is expected in 2019.
Riegelman outlined five verticals where Intelsat anticipates the Intelsat EpicNG series will have the biggest impact: corporate networks, wireless infrastructure, mobility, Internet of Things/Machine-to-Machine (IoT/M2M) communications, and government. Aeronautical and maritime customers signed some of the first anchor capacity deals for EpicNG, he said. Some markets will take more concentrated efforts than others, however. IoT requires more ground infrastructure advancements to create new opportunities for satellite. Riegelman said Intelsat is working with ground infrastructure partners on Ku-band terminals, along with Kymeta on the antenna side.
“The main competitors there are S and L band, but we see a very viable future for Ku band as we go forward,” he said.
In the government space, which has been a challenging market for many operators due to drawdowns in U.S. spending, Riegelman expressed optimism that Intelsat EpicNG will bring new business. The digital payload technology used is derived from the U.S. Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) fleet, making the U.S. government and allies somewhat familiar with the EpicNG platform already. Riegelman said Intelsat General, the division of Intelsat focused on the government market, is actively engaged with customers, which, though they do not make pre-commitments similar to the commercial sector, have demonstrated interest.
“On the government side it has an even greater importance because as you move into a spot beam environment, you are able to manage interference because of the size of the beams. The digital payload allows us to grab any uplink frequency, dynamically reposition it to another location, and then move it and/or mute it down to mitigate the interference. This is something that the industry hasn’t been able to do. So the flexibility and security that is inherent in the digital payload is really going to appeal to our government customers in particular,” said Riegelman.
Though HTS is not typically regarded as “game changing” for the broadcast sector, Intelsat has done a few deals with Intelsat EpicNG to date. In September 2015, the Television and Radio Broadcasting Network of Armenia (TRBNA) partnered with Intelsat to implement a Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) network on Intelsat 33e. Riegelman said the company does see more niche opportunities for broadcast services with Intelsat EpicNG.
“As we move into an era of more regionalized programming and more local content, that is where Intelsat EpicNG can play a role with its spot beams. One of the things we are looking at with Intelsat 29e is how do we do distribution in a C-band footprint, and then use the Ku band to push local data. There are these hybrid solutions that we will see over time if they make sense, but for linear distribution to pay-TV, C-band wide beam is still king,” he said.
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