Last week SatCom Frontier spoke with Paul Harr, director of product management at iDirect Government Technologies. Paul talks about the role of SATCOM, the importance of Internet Protocol (IP) over SATCOM and trends he sees affecting the government market.
Thank you for speaking with SATCOM Frontier. Please give us some background on yourself and your company.
iDirect Government Technologies (iGT) is a wholly owned subsidiary of VT iDirect, Inc. We’re a satellite communications vendor offering Internet Protocol (IP) communications technology that enables constant connectivity for voice, video and data applications in diverse and challenging environments.
We’re 100 percent focused on the needs of the Department of Defense and civilian government agencies, and have been for over 12 years. That means we’ve been there from the beginning of the IP satellite data market. IP over SATCOM is vital because that’s the language of the Internet; it’s how data is shared and how devices communicate.
Personally, I’ve been in this business for over 30 years. Previously, I worked at PanAmSat and Datapath, so I’m able to view the space market from different perspectives.
What role does SATCOM play in protecting situational awareness for the warfighter?
It’s huge, because the needs of the military in theater are by definition highly unpredictable. SATCOM provides point to point connectivity and reach back to almost any place globally.
A vital component for any military organization is the ability to communicate, share information and provide support for large, groups of personnel anytime, anywhere. In today’s diverse theater of operations, the warfighter uses a variety of tools to gather data for situational awareness – UAVs, troops on the ground, GPS, etc. all of which can be transmitted via SATCOM to give the warfighter a complete picture of the situation at hand.
Why is IP so critical for SATCOM?
As I mentioned above, IP is the unified protocol for our modern world, bringing together voice, data and video. IP being the terrestrial standard, it’s a better protocol for devices like smart phones and tablets. IP over SATCOM removes the need for three separate protocols; it is much more efficient.
Some of the services powered by IP include email, chat, video teleconferencing (VTC), file distribution, biometrics, ISR and sensor applications. IP allows for the use of COTS equipment, which is often modified in some way for government use.
Before the use of IP over SATCOM, you only had voice communications and very little data transfer. Any data had to be stored, and then later transported. Obviously that type of latency won’t translate for today’s warfighter who needs to know what’s over the next hill, or around the next building.
IP makes SATCOM truly three dimensional. You could say that real-time situational awareness runs on IP.
What are some trends relating to IP SATCOM?
I see two main trends. The first relates to mobility, COTM.
There is increased use of IP in Comms on the Move (COTM), land, sea and air. You’re seeing more Internet and voice on planes today, commanders who can’t afford to be cut off, staying in touch while traveling from point A to point B.
The other trend mirrors the broader technology space – the devices are getting smaller and smaller. We’ve gone from a bag phone to one that fits in the palm of your hand. Now terminals are starting to follow suit. What was once 1 meter in diameter is now half that, delivering 1-2 Mbps via devices the size of laptops.
What developments in the government market do you see in the next 12-18 months?
In that time frame we’ll start to see next generation high performance satellite architectures start to come online. These next gen systems are getting smarter, and they integrate the satellite with ground based infrastructures to more efficiently utilize bandwidth and power. This is critical for an increasingly mobile environment; COTM means the demand is moving, so you need powerful and flexible mobile beams.
I see the budgetary climate continuing to be a challenge for the near future. Things will proceed more slowly than in the past. That said, satellite and IP will be less affected because often times superior C4ISR replaces physical assets in theater. In many ways, there is an inverse relationship between SATCOM and boots on the ground.
I also see a healthier balance developing between commercial SATCOM capability and the needs of the military. Both parties want to find the best ways to work together. Commercial can and will continue to carry the majority of SATCOM traffic, and hosted payloads could play a role. Those types of innovations could deliver more IP SATCOM bandwidth more efficiently, which is good for all parties.