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Teleports in a Gigabit World

Posted By Robert Bell, Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Throughput, measured in bits per second, has long been the Achilles' Heel of satellite communications.  The global satellite network, with its unique location in the high ground of space, can do things that no other communications technology can do as efficiently and effectively.  But it has never been able to do very much of it.   

When TV was the only "broadband" application requiring significant throughput, it didn't matter.  But with the average smartphone today consuming more than a gigabit of data per month, we are clearly not in Kansas anymore when it comes to end-user demand.   

Since the 1990s, the industry has done its best to adapt.  Advances in compression delivered step-change improvements in capacity and allowed media companies and their service providers to squeeze more and more channels into a single transponder.   Each advance made service providers fear for the future – that demand would drop as capacity increased – but after a short time, customers always absorbed the extra capacity and wanted more.   

When Internet trunking became a market, it raised the bar by requiring advanced coding and error correction to reduce latency in two-way traffic.  And now Ka-band is making its way from specialized niche application to the mainstream through the efforts of Avanti, Eutelsat, ViaSat, Arabsat and Hughes.  In the process, it seems to have unleashed a different paradigm on the industry.  

When ViaSat bragged that its ViaSat-1 spacecraft would add more bandwidth in space than the entire GEO satellite fleet, it was more than a marketing statement.  It signaled a change in the rules of the game.  The "high-throughput satellite," a term coined by NSR, went from vision to reality in a remarkably short time.  And it has triggered an "arms race" among satellite technology companies to deliver higher and higher throughput in C and Ku bands as well. Intelsat's EPIC announcement was only the most recent, if most far-reaching, of a wave of innovation in coding and network architecture.    

Why is it happening now and what will it mean for the companies that deliver services via satellite?  From now through early September, WTA will be conducting interviews with executives from technology, teleport and satellite companies for a report titled Teleports in a Gigabit World.  We will ask whether the ability to market a lower-cost service in C, Ku or Ka-band will be a positive or negative for their businesses.  Are there opportunities to gain a competitive advantage over slow adopters or become gateways for integrated high-speed networks?  If so, what new investment demands will it create and what technologies should they bet on?  In the process, how can they stay true to a successful teleport's most important rule: invest ahead – but only a little ahead – of customer demand to avoid getting stuck with unusable technology.  

Find out on September 24, when Teleports in a Gigabit World will be published online.  Like all WTA reports, it will be free to members and available for sale to non-members.

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