Last month SATCOM Frontier spoke with David Myers of Harris CapRock. He discussed the evolution of High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems and the lively industry debate around Ku- and Ka- band. You can find more information from Harris CapRock on HTS at their web site www.kafactcheck.com.
Thank you for speaking with SATCOM Frontier. Please give our readers some background about yourself and Harris CapRock.
Harris CapRock is the largest provider of communications to remote and harsh environments around the world. The three main markets we serve are Energy, Maritime (cruise and commercial), and government. We provide end-to-end managed services for our customers, utilizing our self-owned and operated infrastructure which includes over a dozen global teleport facilities and more than 80 terrestrial points of presence.
Harris CapRock is the largest commercial buyer of satellite capacity in the world, and that scale gives us a unique perspective into providing the ultra remote communications solutions our clients require.
I joined the company in 2004 and have served in a variety of roles, including President of Harris CapRock Government Solutions, and I recently took on a new role as president of our Energy Solutions business. I have spent more than half of my 20 year career in the satellite industry. It seems that every year some exciting new innovation refuels people’s passion for the industry. HTS is the latest.
How do you see the broad evolution to High Throughput Satellite systems playing out in the B2B and B2G markets?
I think the easiest way to understand the evolution is focusing on the two biggest benefits of HTS. Those are:
1. The much higher data rates that HTS makes possible to ultra remote locations. Technological development of not just satellites, but modems as well are going to make a “fiber like” experience a reality to oil rigs and ships almost no matter the location. 30-50 mbps will soon be a common, cost-effective solution that we can offer to customers.
2. HTS provides much greater flexibility than was available in the past. Instead of fixed beams, you have the ability to target beams of the transponders for a more efficient space link. Effectively, you can deliver higher data rates to the end customer, while using the same amount of power and spacecraft resources. The best HTS technologies are based on open architecture and engineered for backwards compatibility, allowing customers to use existing hardware. At the same time, increased control means that we can offer customized, differentiated solutions — even defining such service characteristics as speed, hardware and network topology.
With new Ku-band HTS satellites in particular, both commercial and government customers benefit. They receive the reliability of traditional Ku-band, the ability to use the same hardware, and enjoy the spot beam architecture pioneered with the development of Ka-band.
At Harris CapRock we’re technology agnostic, and provide services in all the major bands – C, Ku, Ka, X and even UHF – based on the application environment of the customer.
Speaking of bands, the pros and cons of Ku-band vs. Ka-band have received a lot of industry attention – what’s your take?
Well first off, we’re driven by what provides the best fit for our current customers. That puts us in a very different stance than say Immarsat Global Xpress, which is a major architecture investment based exclusively in Ka-band.
I’ve mentioned client needs – the second component of our decision was a thorough engineering analysis. The scientific data that resulted from a side by side comparison of a variety of emerging satellite technologies drove our decision to go with the upcoming Epic system.
Quite simply, it is the best overall platform for our industrial and government clients who demand not only high speeds but have no tolerance for downtime. When you analyze spot beam Ka- vs. Ku-band, in clear skies there is no doubt Ka- delivers better throughput. However, our clients rarely enjoy clear, calm skies. So, our clients can’t avail themselves of one of Ka-band’s advantages, which is the small form size of the equipment. Our customers need to use larger antennas to ensure uptime.
Customers with “industrial-grade” operations in remote and harsh locations, like energy exploration and production, mining, commercial maritime, and government, demand highly reliable communications services and have ever increasing bandwidth requirements. For these kinds of clients, our in-depth analysis shows that Ku-band HTS systems have a distinct advantage over Ka-band HTS systems, as well as traditional regional and hemispheric beam systems.
While Ka-band HTS can be quite competitive for customer services that do not require particularly high reliability, such as consumer broadband access, they generally do not enable the bandwidth or link availability required by industrial customers, without an excessive, and therefore costly, use of spacecraft power and resources.
In marine conditions the Ku-band longer wave provides advantages, and in real world conditions delivers a lower cost per bit, despite Ka- looking cheaper when looked on a theoretical basis.
Having said all that, I wouldn’t want to give an impression we’re anti Ka-band. We sell lots of it. But for the industrial markets, Ku-band is the better fit.
What are some significant market events you see happening in the next 12-18 months?
Well I don’t know if this is a prediction or just being optimistic, but I’m very eager to see more HTS spot beams come on board from the operators. This is because of all the advantages I’ve listed above.
What’s changing fast is the customer expectation around the mobile experience. And this change will force the business model to change as well. In the past, mobile communications on ships or aircraft offered very limited options, and was extremely expensive.
That’s changing, and the L-band providers need to adjust their pricing models, or risk being pushed aside for most applications by high throughput VSAT. The days of dollars per minute pricing are numbered.
Part of that change may come from Iridium – they are doing some exciting things around Iridium NEXT, their high throughput L-band satellite.
A challenge to the industry that I’d like to see addressed is the lack of enough Ka-band equipment for high throughput options. Hardware manufacturers need to make these kinds of choices more cost neutral.