How Really Epic is Intelsat EpicNG?

 By Melvyn Chen,  Senior Principal Marketing Manager

That’s the question I get asked most often when I’m speaking at industry events or meeting with customers. Since EpicNG was announced by Intelsat back in 2012, it created a lot of buzz in the industry with its unique features such as higher performance, digital payload, open architecture and backward compatibility. As a High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) platform, it also stood out from the rest of the industry with its focus on providing carrier grade services by using the more reliable C-band and Ku-band frequencies. Comparatively, other HTS operators in the industry favoured using Ka-band frequencies which tend to be more suited for consumer grade applications.

Coverage of Intelsat 29e, Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 32e
Coverage of Intelsat 29e, Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 32e

With three Intelsat EpicNG satellites (Intelsat 29e and Intelsat 33e launched in 2016 and Intelsat 32e in 2017) now in orbit, we are now able to provide real-world customer success stories with Intelsat EpicNG.  So with CommunicAsia just around the corner, it seems the opportune time now for me to tell of one such success story from Pakistan.

The hero of our story is Supernet who is one of Pakistan’s biggest satellite network service providers and system integrators and counts all the mobile network operators (MNOs) in Pakistan as among their customers. As a measure, 75 percent of all 2G traffic over satellite in Pakistan goes through Supernet.

In recent times, the MNOs and Supernet were facing the following challenges:

  • Lower Average Revenues Per User (ARPUs) have reduced the capability of MNOs from investing in either expanding or maintaining their rural network infrastructure which also just happens to be mainly on satellite.
  • Supernet also faced intense competition and was under pressure to provide more bang for the buck to their customers
  • Supernet’s current services spanned across multiple satellites, which meant a very high level of operational complexity. Managing logistics and spares was also a major challenge.

After understanding more about the benefits of the Intelsat EpicNG platform such as its open architecture and compatibility with their current hardware, Supernet was keen to further explore how they could simplify their scope of operations and address some of the challenges above with Intelsat EpicNG. The worry about how Intelsat EpicNG was an untested and yet to be launched platform did linger in their minds but Supernet, who has always pursued innovation to maintain their leadership position, never shied away from pushing the envelope with us.

To support Supernet, the Intelsat team evaluated their entire network and continually optimized our solution to fit their constantly evolving network requirements. This process continued over a span of two years until the actual launch of Intelsat 33e. Through this process, Supernet expressed their appreciation for Intelsat’s expertise in satellite solutions for cellular backhaul networks as opposed to what they experienced from other satellite operators who were more focused on media broadcast applications.

With Intelsat 33e now in service, I am happy to report that their faith in us was not misplaced. After conducting in-orbit testing, Supernet found the following:

  • The increased spectral efficiency of Intelsat 33e provided Supernet with a significant increase in throughput using their current ground infrastructure. The only additional investment required was a nominal fee for a license to operate at a higher modulation (MODCOD) scheme.
  • The power consumption per mbps of the ground equipment (BUC) was reduced by up to 10 times! These RF power savings meant that no additional power upgrades were required to support more traffic growth (e.g. 3G/4G upgrade) at these existing sites.
  • Having validated the real-world performance of Intelsat EpicNG, Supernet was able to simplify the satellite bandwidth element of the deployed satellite networks by consolidating services from across multiple satellites to Intelsat 33e.

Pictures of Supernet cellular network maintenance

Furthermore, Supernet’s benefits with Intelsat EpicNG do not end there. As they look towards future markets and applications, they are exploring the use of next generation modems with higher MODCODs to support even higher throughput and Intelsat’s close partnerships with all the leading modem manufacturers ensure that compatibility with Intelsat EpicNG will not be an issue.

At the SET Brazil event last year, Intelsat, using the Intelsat 29e EpicNG satellite, demonstrated the transmission of a 20mbps Ultra HD channel using just 5.8 MHz of bandwidth at a higher order MODCOD of 32APSK. This opens the door to new applications and markets for Supernet.

Looking back, I still remember being part of those early marathon discussions with Supernet 2 years ago and am glad that it has worked out so well for both Supernet and Intelsat. With Supernet’s focus on innovation and continuous improvement, they indeed deserve to reap the many benefits of their foresight and investment.

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