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"Optimum Performance" is the only performance

Posted By Robert Bell, Monday, July 1, 2019

For a technology launched in the 1980s, VSATs have shown a remarkable ability to adapt and thrive. In fact, they are on a growth curve that, according to NSR, will create cumulative market revenue of $159 billion over the next decade. Maritime is forecast to lead the pack with a 16% CAGR to 75,000 VSAT-enabled vessels by 2028.

Growth is good. But it is rarely painless and nearly always comes with challenges for those trying to serve the growing market. Not least of which is trying to manage that growth while maintaining or even improving the bottom line.

Optimum Performance

That’s why WTA will soon publish a new report, Managing VSAT Networks for Optimum Performance. After speaking with teleport operators, satellite operators and technology providers, we are unpacking the challenges and how service providers and technologists are meeting them.

The challenges are many. High (maybe unreasonable) customer expectations for quality of service, which demand higher levels of redundancy throughout the network. Customer demands for more for less money, which increases pressure on margins. More upstream traffic, driven by the explosion of video. And most of all, rising complexity as hundreds of terminals and applications become thousands.

Future-Proofing Your Networks

The experts we interviewed are intent on future-proofing networks to adapt to all these challenges – and do it profitably. They start with precision mapping of networks and terminals, merging that information with external maps, weather and the location of such interference sources as mobile antennas. Speaking of interference, there are great new technologies from companies like Kratos that reduce the long and tedious job of geolocation to a few mouse clicks.

Service providers are also having to accept the responsibility for end-to-end quality of service. It’s a big challenge to guarantee service across multiple networks, only some of which you control. But smart operators are finding ways to do it, from investing more in redundancy to new approaches for live monitoring.

Dealing with the Data Flood

The downside of all this hard and excellent work is the flood of data it produces. One contributor said that he is generating between five and six million data points from a single RF system covering up to 90 sites. Artificial intelligence offers the only possibility of making sense of it all, and there is a lot of progress in that area, as detailed in our recent report, Automating the Teleport.

In today’s competitive market, optimum performance is the only performance that customers will accept. Look for our publication announcement of Managing VSAT Networks for Optimum Performance next week. We thank Kratos for the financial support that made the report possible. Like all WTA reports, it is free for employees of member companies and available on a paid basis to all others.

Tags:  Kratos  performance  VSAT 

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The Hidden Threats to Service Continuity

Posted By Robert Bell, Monday, February 4, 2019

Once upon a time, a large teleport operator was hit by a major power outage. Uninterruptible power supplies immediately kicked in and the NOC staff waited for the generator to start. Nothing happened. So, they switched to the backup generator. Still nothing. Work crews rushed to trouble-shoot the generator failures while the countdown timer on the UPS batteries ticked downward…and downward…and still downward. Just minutes from total loss of power, the work crews got one of the generators started and customers suffered no loss of service.

That did not stop the operator from buying two more generators to serve as triple and quadruple backups.

The Core Deliverable

Service continuity is the core deliverable to customers. Most other aspects of service can be managed, explained or finessed, but not whether the service is off instead of on, severely degraded rather than healthy. Not surprisingly, it is the issue to which teleport engineers and managers devote most of their time, energy and money.

And yet, as the story shows, it is always the hidden issue, the weak link left unnoticed, that threatens the continuity of service, even at well-run facilities with proper procedures in place.

In 2015, WTA introduced its Teleport Certification program to help operators find the strengths and weaknesses in their facilities, technology and procedures and to receive independent, standards-based certification at one of four Tiers, from Tier 4 at the top to Tier 1. To date, WTA has certified 46 teleports operating in the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, Norway, Cyprus, Switzerland, the UAE, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, Bulgaria, Colombia and Brazil.

Analyzing the Hidden Threats

Teleport Certification has also generated substantial data on teleport operators from its 270-question survey instrument. WTA has analyzed that and, on February 5, is publishing the first in a series of reports on the most common but under-appreciated issues effecting quality of service. The report, High-Performance: Service Continuity, explores the hidden threats to service continuity and how teleport operators can best address them. If it motivates you to take a fresh look at your redundancies, your testing schedules and your change management procedures, the report will have done its work. It is available free to members and for sale to non-members.

Tags:  service continuity 

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Teleport Certification Doubled Its Reach in 2018

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, January 24, 2019

In 2015 at IBC, WTA introduced the world’s first certification program specifically for teleports. At the time, there were certifications for data centers, for telecommunications equipment, for buildings and much else, but nothing for the “data center with dishes” that is today’s teleport.

Satellite operators asked us for help in qualifying teleports as partners for the delivery of services. Teleport operators wanted a way to distinguish the quality of their operations and facilities from lowball competitors. Responding to demand, we convened a group of experts who developed standards and a detailed evaluation questionnaire.

We asked teleport operators to complete the questionnaire, and after analysis, awarded those with passing scores a Provisional Certification good for one year. It was provisional because it is based solely on self-reported data. But we urged every operator to go to the next step: Full Certification based on an inspection by a WTA-appointed auditor. With the data from the auditor’s report, we then issued certifications at one of four quality tiers, from Tier 4 at the top to Tier 1 at the bottom.

From Early Adopters to the Mainstream

Our first early adopter was the Talia Teleport in Raisting, Germany – and we will always be grateful to them for going first. On the completion of their full audit in 2016, we awarded the facility a Tier 3 certification, signifying a high level of quality in their facility, technology and procedures. Other independent teleports soon followed: Horizon Teleport in Moosburg, Germany; Signalhorn Trusted Network in Backnang, Germany and Leuk, Switzerland; Globecomm in Hauppauge, New York, USA; and Elara Comunciaciones in Mexico City.

Gradually, much larger companies began to apply: Optus and Eutelsat, Arqiva and du, Telenor, Intelsat and Speedcast. From that cluster of early adopters in early 2016, the number of certified teleports grew to 22 by the end of 2017 and then doubled to 46 by the end of 2018. The world’s three top satellite operators decided in 2018 to add a question about certification to their evaluation questionnaires for partner teleports, and end-customer RFPs began to do the same. The growth has been gratifying, but the most important result is not just growth. It is in creating a transparent standard for quality and motivating teleport operators to adopt it, whatever level of price-performance their customers require.

When the Board approved this project in 2015, the mandate was clear. Certification was a means to drive quality improvement across the industry to the benefit of customers and operators alike. We’re glad to have come this far on the journey, and we look forward to finding new ways to help teleport operators raise their game in 2019.

Tags:  certification 

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The Robot Overlord Will See You Now

Posted By Robert Bell, Monday, December 10, 2018

The mainstream telecom industry has gone through wave after wave of automation, leaving behind the switchboard operator in favor of digital switches, voice processing and online portals. For most of that time, however, the teleport and satellite business stayed stubbornly manual. Antennas were pointed and polarized by hand and through telephone calls to the NOC. Tapes were mounted for playout. Service quality was analyzed by eye and managed with fingers on control panels. It all worked because the number of services on an antenna changed slowly, and the high costs of capacity kept the number of customers small as well.

Those days are gone. An executive interviewed in 2016 for the WTA report The Teleport of Tomorrow put it this way: “If you are serving a few hundred or few thousand terminals now, you should expect to serve hundreds of thousands in future. With lower-cost capacity and terminals, the demand will increase substantially. If you are a teleport, don’t plan on doubling the terminals and capacity you manage: plan on seeing it increase 10-fold.”

How to Automate Without the Nightmares

In a world of 10-fold increases in complexity – but not in what customer want to pay for that complexity – automation is the key to survival. Not just automation – “service orchestration” is the new approach to managing internal and external hardware and software to make the best use of in-house resources and leverage third-party providers.

For our next report, Automating the Teleport, we spoke to nearly two dozen teleport operators and technology executives to learn the automation tools they use, the hard lessons they learned along the way, and what they want from future technology.

One surprising takeaway: user-friendliness is not a “soft” benefit – it can spell the difference between a system that minimizes operator errors and one that actively generates them. Another was about cost and benefit: “It always seems to take longer and cost more than expected – but we also underestimate the value. We don’t see the opportunity-cost savings of freeing up staff to do new things, things you never even thought about. There is a huge under-appreciation of the value that automation can create.”

Look for Automating the Teleport from WTA in your email. It’s free to employees of member companies and for sale to everyone else.

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Are You Factoring 5G Into Your Future?

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mobile backhaul and base station networking have long been an important business for satellite and teleport operators, despite the fact that satellites carried less than 1.4% of global mobile traffic in 2016, according to NSR. The same company estimated, however, that satellite-based cellular backhaul in-service units would grow at double-digit rates from about 40,000 in 2016 to more than 120,000 in 2027.

Massive Growth in Bandwidth Requirements

The roll-out of 5G mobile service has the potential to accelerate that growth. The 5G standard will provide devices on the network with between 1 and 10 Gbps of speed with practically unlimited capacity. Supporting that will drive a 100x growth in mobile backhaul. New features already being deployed in 4G LTE encourage mobile operators to concentrate heavy-duty processing in data centers linked to remote base stations, which creates a market for “fronthaul” that is currently provided by fiber but is likely to need satellite in a 5G future.

Factoring 5G Into Your Future

WTA will shortly publish a new report, Factoring 5G Into Your Future, to brief teleport and satellite operators on the technology, the opportunities, the challenges and industry partnerships that are shaping the standard. It details a range of market-specific opportunities that deployment of 5G will bring.

The Internet of Things is already a market driver for teleport and satellite operators. The 5G specification is expected to become the standard for IoT, so integration with it will be a priority.

Communications with objects in motion, currently a satellite specialty, will also be covered by the 5G standards, which will tend to increase demand for service. Most valuable of all may be video. 5G will support a massive increase in video to mobile devices – and the economics suggest that caching video files at the edge could become a major business for teleports.

A Seat at the Table

The 5G standard will not be published in final form until 2020, and there are as yet no 5G consumer handsets on the market. But the satellite industry is pushing as never before to be at the table as specifications are established – because 5G is an architecture that will have a massive impact on how the whole world communicates. The mobile industry wants to finalize the standard as fast as possible and is pushing back on adding a satellite component. The satellite and teleport sectors need to keep up the pressure to ensure their fair share of the massive wave of investment that 5G will create over its decade-long deployment. 

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Inside the Tier 4 Teleport (Part 1)

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, August 30, 2018

We go through life protected by rules and procedures that are mostly invisible to us. Your airplane flight is safe because of a mass of rules and procedures governing every aspect of the journey. Your food is safe because producers must be certified as meeting certain standards. The same kind of certifications protect the (legal) drugs you take.

The digital world we all inhabit is likewise protected by the certification of data centers as meeting standards for robust operation. The business of broadcast is standards-based and much of its technology is certified for quality. But it was not until 2014 that there existed a set of standards and certification for a key part of the broadcast value chain: the teleport. That facility and set of technologies that connect ground-based content to the contribution and distribution networks in the sky. 

One Out of Five

In that year, the World Teleport Association began certifying the facilities and operating procedures of teleports. Certification provided the first objective and transparent way for teleport operators to validate the quality of their operations, and for customers to choose vendors that offer the right price-performance level for their needs.

Teleport certification is based on an in-depth questionnaire created by a Standards Committee of teleport and satellite executives. It covers business continuity, transmission systems, network operations, safety and security. Questions explore how the teleport manages capacity, maintains service levels, ensures security and oversees changes. Full Certification includes a site inspection by a WTA auditor, who also issues a report suggesting ways to improve operations. The end result is certification at one of four quality levels, from Tier 1 at the bottom to Tier 4 at the top.

What does it take to become a Tier 4 teleport? It is not meant to be easy – and it isn't. Only one out of every five teleports certified by WTA achieves the coveted Tier 4 level. Tier 4 teleports are designed and maintained with remarkable attention to all the factors that ensure high availability and resilience in the face of problems.

More Than Satellite

Certification for teleports is especially important at a time when they have become so much more than uplink sites. Teleports that serve the media and entertainment business are data centers and content hubs. They ingest content, format it, schedule it and play it out. They protect it. They feed it not just to the sky but to content distribution networks that drive the OTT business. They have become experts at overcoming the technical and operational problems that can stand in the way of OTT monetization. Their value to media and entertainment grows by the year, and certification provides their customers with the assurance that they can give high-value content the treatment it deserves.

What does that assurance look like? More in our next installment. Or visit www.worldteleport.org/certification for details. 

Tags:  certification  tier 4 

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What’s in the Cloud for Teleport Operators?

Posted By Robert Bell, Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Worldwide, cloud service providers generated US$220 billion in revenue in 2016, according to Gartner, and will nearly double that to $411 billion by 2020. With acres of server capacity and sophisticated systems to manage it, cloud providers offer their customers flexibility, scalability to burst traffic for high demand, and pay-per-use pricing. The most profound impact of the cloud may be its ability to turn capital expenses into operating expenses. This offers major advantage when starting up a service and substantially reduces the risks to the business in the event a new service fails to meet its objectives. 

You Need a Cloud Strategy

WTA will soon publish its first report on the adoption of cloud services – Clear Skies or Stormy Weather? Cloud Services for Teleport Operators. It argues that every teleport operator today needs a cloud strategy because of the impacts the cloud can have on its business.

Fast and Flexible in a Changing Market

In the media space, interconnection with a cloud provider allows one teleport operator to offer more flexible occasional-use video services, including the ability to quickly scale up during peak demand, along with a better cost structure. Using a public cloud to encode video may cost more per hour than on-premise technology, but it is well-suited to the unpredictable demand of occasional-use.

“As our business transitions from long-term commercial contracts to customers only willing to commit to three months of service at a time,” says an executive, “we can use a cloud solution to spin it up, deliver service and walk away without worrying about capex. Where it could take months to set up a channel before, we can literally set it up faster than the customer can make the final decision. Time-to-market shrinks from 30 days to under 60 minutes.”

New Markets

Partnering with cloud providers can provide access to new customers and new opportunities from existing ones. The big cloud providers have a massive network of customers and can help them market services to each other. The cloud operators also need what teleport operators have: the ability to connect to satellite and other dedicated transmission paths, and data processing capacity that puts workload closer to end-users. 

Their rich software toolkits can also help expand existing business. “A broadcaster needs multiple ways of getting content to the consumer,” says a contributor, “and lots of different ways to monetize the content to pay for the additional distribution cost. As their service provider, we need to offer IP delivery across all formats and networks. We need to master analytics so that we become their source for answers about viewer demographics and viewing habits, which is so critical to monetization.” 

Getting More from IT

The cloud offers teleport operators the same potential value as any other enterprise: the chance to reduce costs, increase agility and gain access to valuable applications. One respondent turns to cloud providers for special IT requirements. “If we are doing a customer-facing portal website for their services, often we will host it in the cloud, rather than us spinning up database and webservers in-house. It’s faster and takes advantage of the database, web hosting and other services the cloud provider already offers.” 

A cloud provider can also act as a highly secure platform for a teleport operator and customer to interconnect systems that need to talk to each other. One respondent described a customer’s request to integrate its in-house scheduling system with the playout system at the teleport. Directly connecting the platforms would create staffing, operational, legal and security issues for both companies. But interfacing the systems through an application programming interface (API) in the cloud protects both companies’ IT infrastructure while meeting the customer’s requirements. 

You Must be In It to Win It

Cloud providers also represent a new source of competition. Media-centric operators already report that transcoding, packaging, playout and workflows are beginning to migrate to the big cloud providers. Integrating cloud services into your operations also requires new skills to manage properly and the right approach to integration. But operators today have no choice but to understand the cloud thoroughly, adopt it intelligently and adapt to the changes it will bring to the business. 

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The Teleport Market: Growing? Shrinking? Both?

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, April 5, 2018

At the end of March, WTA published Sizing the Teleport Market 2018. It updated research last published in 2010 to provide estimates of the number of commercial teleports in operation, their revenues, satellite capacity usage, capital expenditures and headcount. Using this data, decision-makers can estimate the global and regional market share for a teleport operating company and conduct due diligence for mergers and acquisitions.

Consolidation and Growth

Over the past seven years, the teleport sector has seen consolidation as companies build scale to gain cost efficiencies and improve their competitive position. This has produced an industry that is smaller in the number of facilities it operates but larger in total revenues. The number of commercial teleports worldwide has decreased by 3% from 2016 to 2018, for an annual average of 1%.

Over the same period, however, estimated total revenues of the teleport sector grew 6% from US$9.813 billion in 2016 to $10.384 billion in 2018. Average revenue per teleport rose 9% from $13.9 million in 2016 to $15.2 million in 2018. For the sector as a whole, consolidation did its job of creating fewer, more productive assets.

Rising Capacity

That growth has been a boon to satellite operators. On a global basis in 2017, the teleport industry purchased 222,500 MHz of satellite capacity for an estimated $5.3 billion. Spending on capacity rose 6.5% across all regions from 2016 to 2018.

Consolidation, however, is hardly the whole story. While midsize companies become larger and the largest seek further increases in scale, new players enter the market to exploit new demand created by technology and market change. The teleport itself undergoes radical change: packing far more services into fewer antennas, virtualizing operations into software that once required massive hardware investments and substituting terrestrial networks for satellite distribution where they can.

Get the regional breakdowns and detailed data on revenue, capex, capacity usage, antenna counts and headcounts. Sizing the Teleport Market 2018 is free to WTA members and available for sale to non-members.


 

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A Good Teleport is Hard to Find – But Not For Long

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, February 8, 2018

Since the days when Lyngsat was the go-to resource (remember that?), people have been looking for a reliable, high-quality source of information on teleports. Those people work for satellite operators, for broadcasters, for corporate IT, in the oil and gas patch, in government and military. They work in any industry where there is a need to connect the network in the sky with the network on the ground and buy services that create a complete solution.

We understand the need because WTA has been filling it for a long time. You can already search for teleport operators in our online Marketplace. If they are members, we can also provide a great deal of accurate information about them. If you want to drill deeper, our Teleport Certification program helps you identify operators with quality of service your application needs.

But there has been something missing. The search for a teleport typically begins with a location. You need a facility within the footprint of a particular satellite, or one that is located strategically near a group of network endpoints. Working your way through text listings is a tough way to find what you need.

World Teleport Map

We are pleased to announce the solution: the World Teleport Map. Using Google Maps technology, we provide geolocation of hundreds of teleports around the world.  A click on the link will take you to our most up-to-date information on the operator and facilities, and whether or not they are WTA-certified. The same great, reliable information is now available to potential customers and strategic partners in a convenient visual format.

We will introduce the map shortly. It is one more reason for teleport operators to join their peers as members of WTA. It will ensure that they are well represented in the world’s only geographic guide to the industry. And for our certified teleports, it offers a new level of recognition of the quality of service they have validated through our program. 

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How Teleport Operators Respond to Market Disruption Will Determine Their Future

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, January 18, 2018
Updated: Thursday, February 8, 2018

The business environment in which teleport operators work is being disrupted by technology and market change. Their established businesses face disruption from new models of connectivity (HTS, MEO and LEO), by the rising domination of software over hardware, and customer demands for seamless global service. They are disrupting their own operations by innovating up the value chain to meet new customer needs, which requires a new depth of technology knowledge and strong management skills.

The CEO of one company summed it up: "Everybody desperately wants to know where things are headed right now – and nobody knows."

At the end of last year, WTA set to find out – or at least to survey the collected wisdom of the executives who have to make decisions today that will shape the success of their companies tomorrow. Our upcoming Teleport Opportunity Report explores how service providers in different market segments are adapting. What market opportunities are they targeting and where are they investing their capital? What are their biggest obstacles to growth and the biggest threats to their survival?

What We Learned

Here are some of the more interesting findings:

  • Of the top five growth opportunities cited by executives whose companies principally serve media & entertainment customers, only two are in media & entertainment. That may reflect a dim view of their core business's future: nearly half expect decline in DTH, terrestrial and cable origination and distribution.
  • Media-focused companies are betting on developing their own private cloud services as a winning strategy. Because TV content owners continue to hesitate on adopting public cloud services like AWS, they see opportunity in providing a "safer pair of hands" for their customer's precious content. Data-focused operators, however, are investing in integrating public cloud services into their offerings, apparently reasoning that they are never going to beat Amazon at its own game.
  • Despite the rising value of data and analytics, teleport operators' top three investment priorities continue to be in tsatcom infrastructure at their teleports, encode/decode and modem technology, and network management systems. Data center and IP infrastructure, OTT technology and security/encryption are lower priorities – but rise in importance when we asked executives what they would be investing in three years from now.

WTA member companies get free access to the report when it is published on January 23. It is also available to non-member companies for a price. Hint: it pays to be a member!

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