Ushering in the Era of Software-Defined Networks
By Bruno Fromont, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Asset Management
We are at an innovation tipping point. The trends and technologies shaping our world – big data, IoT, social networks, mobile phones and more – are unleashing exciting new possibilities for how we work and live. But they’re also introducing greater complexity than ever before.
Today’s average high-end car, for example, has 100 million lines of code – seven times the lines of code in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. And now we’re looking at a future of autonomous and self-driving vehicles. The growth in complexity is staggering, and network providers of all types will be challenged to deliver solutions and services that are cost-effective, easy to deploy and manage, and able to handle the growing volumes of data and content projected over the next few years.
Satellite networks are uniquely suited for these challenges – their unmatched reach, ubiquity and security can enable connectivity and communications anywhere in the world. But like all hardware-based industries, our innovation cycles have traditionally been longer. Satellites can take three to four years to develop and launch, yet demand patterns are evolving at breakneck speeds. How can we keep pace with technology change while ensuring we have the flexibility to address new opportunities and customer requirements? How can we ease the complexity of our increasingly connected world to deliver services that are so simple, they’re plug and play?
The Globalized Network of the Future – Innovation in Software
Solving these complexities means moving toward software-based approaches that will give us the massive scale, agility and economics required to meet demand – anytime, anywhere. At Intelsat, we’re already moving in this direction, and our Globalized Network of the future will drive innovation through an entire software-defined (SD) ecosystem, including:
- Software-defined satellites, modems and networks – Imagine being able to easily change the functionality of any one of these components on a global basis, with just the push of a button. Modifying the contours of our satellite beams on the fly and swapping our customers’ ground platforms, modems and compression technologies to the latest standard and functionality with a simple software download: that’s where we’re heading – and it will empower customers to transform their businesses with a Globalized Network that can easily adapt to their need and time to market. This is an exciting opportunity for Intelsat, and it means relying more on software to deliver these services – faster and more cost-effectively than ever before.
- Hardware that’s simple, reliable and scaled down to size – In parallel, we need to simplify the hardware to enable greater access and dynamic enhancements of networks on the fly. New low-profile, software-based antennas, like Kymeta’s metamaterials antennas, are a real game changer. They feature no moving parts and can be electronically steered to point to any satellite or shape beams to minimize interference. By pairing our Intelsat EpicNG High Throughput Satellites (HTS) with Kymeta’s metamaterials antennas, we’re able to accelerate and simplify access to satellite connectivity for a range of cost-effective mobility solutions. These types of advancements will let us open the door to new markets and applications that were limited by the constraints of traditional solutions.
- Open systems and interoperability – Today the satellite industry has interconnectivity with wireless networks and fiber, but it’s critical to drive more interoperability with both terrestrial and space networks. Through our partnership with OneWeb, we’re building a complementary network of the future, one that delivers truly interoperable services between geo-stationary orbit and lower-earth orbit, with both constellations in Ku-band. Our open-architecture approach will also spur greater innovation and interoperability, enabling us to leverage the research and development from a large consortium of industry players to incorporate new advances as soon as they’re available. Intelsat EpicNG, for instance, is not only optimized for performance, it takes advantage of any developments made in a software-designed ecosystem. It’s backwards compatible, and compatible with future platforms, terminals and software modulations. Customers have the freedom of choice to incrementally build the network they want, while accommodating future requirements and technologies.
- Scale and standards – Our industry needs to start working more closely with terrestrial providers and other operators to build standards and business models that enable satellites to plug and play into their solutions. IntelsatOne® Flex is a prime example of how we can enable network operators to customize, prioritize and contend Mbps so they can differentiate their services and lower their total cost of ownership. In addition, we are working to add automated activation and de-activation features that will allow IntelsatOne Flex to address millions of remote terminals, not just hundreds or thousands. Separately, we are educating regulatory organizations to ensure our target applications, like the connected car, will have the proper licensing framework that can drive the greatest levels of adoption. In that regard, our focus on Ku-band currently gives us access to the cleanest regulatory environment and greatest cost advantage. But we’ll continue to explore new frequencies, including Ka, Q and V bands, and optical links, as these spectrums may provide an economical choice to access our satellites and serve our customers.
We’ve been laying the foundation with our Globalized Network to create an ecosystem with the software-defined satellite networks, modems, antennas, wave forms and interoperability required to realize the full potential of future applications and connectivity needs. This is a far cry from the hardware-centric, closed systems that have characterized much of our industry, but it represents where the connected world – and Intelsat – is heading.
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