Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband

Published on 6 July 2018

How do broadband satellites work?

Satellite transmissions employ frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum to retransmit data from a central source on the ground to multiple terrestrial antennas, such as those in your phone.

The spectrum of frequencies used by satellites ranges from low frequency L-band emissions to the precise Ka-bands, with frequencies in excess of 3GHz.

L-band transmissions are used by satellite operators like Inmarsat (ISA.L Mcap $1.81bn), which employ their L-band capacities in shipping and aviation communications, while high-frequency bands tend to be preferred for mobile broadband.

Why are high-frequency bands preferred for mobile broadband?

The weakness of low-frequency L-, X- and C-band transmissions is that they work best with large antennas on the ground.

Consequently, in the modern world of portable smartphones, with their tiny integrated receivers, low-frequency bands are often not picked up.

Conversely, Ku-/Ka-bands deliver a more focused, sometimes steerable beam that can transmit information to tiny antennas quickly and reliably, which is preferable when transmitting large amounts of data.

Of the K-bands, which is the industry standard for broadband?

Ka is the fastest of the K-bands and can transmit large amounts of data quickly. Ka’s impressive speeds are a product of its high frequency and narrow transfer beam, allowing satellites to emit multiple transmissions in a small area.

Even with the benefits of Ka-band frequencies, Ku-bands dominate the broadband spectrum, partly because satellites have a long shelf-life and still use old Ku transponders.

Is Ka the future of satellite broadband?

Ka-bands do have some shortcomings, often suffering from rain attenuation, meaning they are more likely to be disrupted by rain, hail or cloud.

Even with the risk of rain attenuation, Ka-band satellites seem to be the future of satellite broadband. Eighteen Ka- or mixed Ka-/Ku-band satellites are being planned for construction in the near future. In comparison, 10 Ku-band satellites are planned for launch over the next few years.

What are the growth prospects of the satellite market?

BigBlu, a 4G/5G wireless and fixed network supplier, highlights the government sector as a growth market for broadband. Believing pledges, like those of President Macron in 2017 to provide high-speed broadband across France by 2020, will grow the market

According to the Satellite Industries Association, the market for satellite TV services stayed flat in 2016,
alongside radio communication, but mobile broadband capacity grew by 5% and revenues by 3%. Northern Sky Research forecasts that annual service revenues will reach $25.6bn in the consumer broadband market by 2026, while Euroconsult estimates that around 3,100 new broadband satellites will launch in the same period.

How fast is the demand for mobile broadband growing?

The ITU, which, among other things, registers and oversees geostationary orbital slots for satellites, reported that the global rate of active mobile broadband subscriptions has increased from 11.5 per 100 inhabitants to 56.4 in only seven years. In developing countries, the rates of mobile broadband subscriptions are 25.9 subscriptions per 100 people in 2017, up from 9.5 in 2012 lower than the worldwide average.

All in all, the ICT Development Index (IDI), which measures the communication development of countries, saw a global IDI increase of 12.9% in mobile broadband development, compared to a combined IDI increase of 0.31% in all data communication fields.

How are companies growing to supply increasing demand for broadband data?

Viasat (VSAT.OQ, Mcap $4.39bn) is taking a traditional approach to increasing its coverage by developing three new Viasat-3 class satellites, in partnership with the European Space Agency.

Smaller launch companies, Such as Avanti and its HYLAS 4 satellite, and AAC Microtech, which recently bought out Clyde Space, are also expandingheir satellite deployment.

Intelsat is taking another approach by putting a joint proposal with Intel to the FCC, suggesting the C-band spectrum should be cleared in urban areas to allow C-band transmissions to be used reliably in 5G mobile service. Recently, satellite operator SES (SES.SA, Mcap $6.31bn) joined Intelsat and Intel in their proposal.

At the moment, C-band transmissions are too broad to be effective in mobile broadband, as the excessive amount of C-band noise makes it difficult for the small antennas in phones to pick up large packages of information.

While the FCC is still considering the proposal, if it were to be approved, Intelsat, along with other satellite operators, could use its existing network of C-band satellites to supply 5G mobile broadband to urban areas in the US.

How long until we see a truly global mobile broadband system?

In an attempt to monetise the 50% of the global population that remains without consistent access to the internet, Google has launched Project Loon. Loon involves launching and maintaining a fleet of high-altitude communication balloons the size of tennis courts.

Initial tests have shown data transmission rates of 10 megabits per second, and the project has been permitted to deliver the internet through its balloons to 100,000 Puerto Ricans in partnership with AT&T (TN.NW, Mcap $197bn) and T-Mobile (TMUS.O, Mcap $47bn).

Richard Brandson’s OneWeb proposed an even bolder plan than its rival Google, through the creation of a network of satellites intended to supply global broadband coverage.

In June, the company received permission from the FCC to deploy 720 low Earth orbit satellites using the Ka (20/30GHz) and Ku (11/14GHz) frequency bands. OneWeb has begun construction of its ground-based infrastructure, but still has a long way to go before its global network is implemented.

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