People making decisions about buying satellite communications services for their agency or company recently have been bombarded in ads and articles with conflicting and sometimes confusing information about the new high-throughput spacecraft using both the Ka and Ku spectrum bands. Satellites using both bands will be going into space in the coming years that use powerful beams to reach small antennas on Earth, allowing for the deployment of high-capacity mobile aero and maritime networks.
The Ku-band has been well established as the primary spectrum used for mobility networks, as proven by the 9 Intelsat satellites that currently use 12 beams to deliver broadband connectivity where it is needed the most, with global coverage fully integrated with Intelsat’s global fleet. Already offering services to the largest providers of commercial aeronautical and maritime broadband services, Intelsat has more experience than any other operator delivering broadband for mobility applications.
The use of the Ka-band for mobility networks is a relatively new concept because the spectrum has not been widely adopted by satellite operators due to its susceptibility to interference from rain and other weather conditions. Satellite operators who have ordered new Ka-band satellites believe they have developed technologies that help mitigate the rain-fade problem. So, a key decision for the end-user will come down to which type of satellite offers the most throughput for the money and the most network flexibility.
The new Intelsat Epic platform will take the Ku-band to a whole new level of performance while offering compatibility with existing ground networks:
- Throughput: The Intelsat Epic platform will enable throughput in the range of 25-60 Gbps, about 10 times that of traditional satellites. Each Epic spot beam can deliver total throughput of 200 Mbps to aeronautical terminals, and 125 Mbps from those terminals. Maritime users in a beam can experience downlink speeds of up to 290 Mbps, and uplink speeds up to 220 Mbps. This compares to advertised GX rates of 42 Mbps to and 5 Mbps from aircraft.
- Efficiency: Intelsat Epic will use spot-beam and frequency-reuse technologies that concentrate the signal from a transponder over a small area. This will allow for higher modulation schemes that dramatically increase the number of bits customers can push through the megahertz, resulting in lower cost per bit delivered.
- Coverage: Epic is fully integrated with the existing Intelsat fleet, supporting global coverage from the start of its deployment. The initial two Epic satellites will cover all of the populated continents and mobility routes, putting the greatest capacity where there is the greatest demand. Three additional Epic satellites will provide additional resilience and connectivity for the global routes of highest demand. Wide bands will cover vast areas with low traffic densities. This in in stark contrast to other programs that are not compatible with other systems, lacking backup in the case of an anomaly. Other designs will require retransmission within each beam to achieve broadcast of media to all users, as would be required for an entertainment application, for instance.
- Network Architecture/Backwards Compatibility: Intelsat designed the Epic platform with open architecture, enabling highly flexible network topologies and allowing varying ground network technologies to connect with one another. Since many customers already have networks deployed, it is cost efficient to leverage their existing hub and remote hardware
- Frequency Band: Intelsat believes that the selection of spectrum type is the FINAL consideration of network design, and should be determined following analysis of end-user applications and reliability requirements, service regions, and capital and operational expenditures. Intelsat Epic can be deployed in C-, Ku- or Ka-band frequencies—the right spectrum for the right application and region. For many customers, backward compatibility with existing hardware and existing satellite capacity is important, as is not being restricted to a single operator for the life of that hardware.
The new Ka-band networks coming on line over the next few years will no doubt offer good service to customers who use them. For customers who need customized solutions, or who need backward compatible solutions to leverage existing investment in hardware, the high-powered spot beams of Intelsat’s Epic satellites will be a logical option and will be seamlessly integrated with the existing Intelsat fleet and IntelsatOne network.