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.