Is FSS Falling Short?
By Stephen Spengler, Chief Executive Officer
This week, the communications sector converges on Singapore for the annual CommunicAsia conference, which was preceded by CASBAA, the association for digital multichannel television, content, platforms, advertising and video delivery across Asia.
This year I was asked to provide the keynote address at the conference. It is an opportunity to call attention to the great innovations that are taking place in the sector, and what the satellite industry is doing to convert those innovations into new services.
The satellite sector is enjoying a renaissance, with advances that are increasing our capabilities. For instance, in the next nine months or so, Intelsat expects to begin the launch of our next generation High Throughput Satellite (HTS) fleet, Intelsat EpicNG®. With the design of this spacecraft, we are delivering a significant increase in throughput for our customers’ critical applications—throughput which our customers can use to improve the economics and performance of new applications in their vertical markets.
With traffic patterns changing primarily to an IP environment, HTS satellite designs improve performance with frequency reuse. The ability to deliver increased performance, even while allowing use of existing end-user hardware—and in an open systems environment—is a demonstration of the engineering talent in our sector.
It’s easy for satellite operators to be attracted to the increase in performance provided by HTS designs. However, it’s my opinion that we may have lost sight of our mission as the sector races to put this new technology into orbit.
Isn’t the real mission to unlock larger addressable markets for satellite communications? As satellite operators, we are naturally attracted to engineering advances in space. But I think that, collectively, we are falling way short on fully developing the opportunities that are well within reach.
With the need for connectivity—everywhere—all the time, satellite is optimally positioned as the one technology that can provide ubiquitous broadband access. Analysts have identified billions of dollars of incremental opportunity in enterprise, mobility, media, government, and Internet of Things connectivity in the next five years alone. But these larger markets will not be open to us solely on the basis of the increased performance from HTS.
Besides performance, there are two other elements: economics and accessibility.
Economics is a multifaceted concept, but one which boils down to a simple point: we must consider the total cost to the customer of delivering a satellite-based solution, and that means including capital, installation and operations costs as well. Our design imperatives must envelop all aspects of the service delivery business model if satellite is to retain and grow its share of the global communications infrastructure.
Which brings us to accessibility. In my keynote address I reference the original satellite visionary, Sir Arthur Clarke, who said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from magic.”
One of the things I admire most about Intelsat is our passion for the “magic” that we deliver every day—delivering news and entertainment, enabling global commerce and especially connecting those remote villages that other technologies cannot.
But I would be willing to wager that Sir Arthur would not find today’s access technologies to be sufficiently advanced to appear “magical” to our customers.
Let’s be honest. We have a perception issue. We make it really hard for our customers to use satellite-based technology. We require arcane satellite dishes that, depending upon size, will likely require a complicated install. Site power requirements might be dramatically out of sync with the local environments. Once installed, you need a well-trained technician to acquire the signal in a manner that doesn’t knock neighboring networks off the air. Far from Sir Arthur’s call for magic ….our network access devices would be hard to describe as customer-friendly.
Instead…let’s make it impossible to identify a satellite antenna on a roof top. Let’s make our ground hardware easy to install, with automated acquisition and little-to-no on-site construction. This is critical if we expect our high performance capacity to be considered in addressing larger and faster growing applications.
We need to bring customer-friendly access to the forefront of our development activities. To advance our ground access technology, we have to be willing to step outside of our sector and fully leverage ICT R&D, which has a scale that satellite cannot achieve. We need to enhance the value of HTS, and the satellite sector through…
1. Supporting a vibrant service-provider sector in developing end-to-end hybrid solutions that improve accessibility
2. Uniting to develop standards that can drive technology scale
3. Identifying larger ICT partners for broader inclusion of our technology
4. Collaborating across the ecosystem to supplement R&D at smaller innovative firms
5. Unifying to protect our spectrum, essential to our sector
If every satellite operator is not aggressively incorporating these activities into their go-to-market plans, then it is challenging to believe that these operators can possibly achieve a viable fill rate on their satellites, or an appropriate return on the increased investment of HTS.
…And perhaps even more importantly, if we do not succeed in “making satellite invisible,” we will collectively fall short of our destiny: being the technology that truly enables a connected planet.
Our CTO has said that the satellite sector will see more advances in the next decade than we have seen in the first 50 years of our industry. I believe it. And the day satellite becomes invisible will be the day that we start claiming a much larger and more sustainable position in the communications landscape.