Universal connectivity requires extensive collaboration

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WASHINGTON – Within a decade, satellite mobility providers expect to offer customers seamless transitions between terrestrial and satellite networks.

Spanish satellite operator Hispasat, for example, envisions “a fully interoperable 5G- based network, melding terrestrial and multi-orbit satellite infrastructure into a single network” within five to 10 years, Ignacio Sanchis, Hispasat chief commercial officer, said during a March 22 panel at the Satellite 2022 conference.

Jay Yass, Omnispace chief corporate development officer, predicted universal, global connectivity directly to consumer and enterprise devices within three to four years.

While universal connectivity is possible, it will require significant collaboration among satellite communications and terrestrial communications firms as well as satellite equipment manufacturers. It also may require some standards to ensure that ground segments can communicate with the various communications networks.

For the moment, satellite communications constellations are being designed to communicate in different waveforms and to operate at different frequencies. And while some satellites work as bent pipes, simply broadcasting data sent to space, others process the onboard the satellite, creating signals that are difficult for ground stations to interpret.

That’s not to say that it will be impossible to achieve global connectivity, but manufacturing equipment to communicate with the various constellations will be challenging. The question is “how much complexity and money do you want to budget to get that right,” asked Louis Dubin, Comtech senior vice president for product management.

Standards, which would ease the task, are a controversial subject among satellite mobility providers.

“People like to talk about standards, but when thinking about how you differentiate your product or service, standards need to go out the window,” said Globalstar CEO David Kagain. “It’s really critical to have your own device or your own chipset that is different than what the competitors are doing. That is your core value proposition as a company.”

Standards also can constrain innovation. “How do you drive standardization where you need to, but then allow yourself to innovate to differentiate the user experience,” McRae asked.

Still, it may be worth the trouble and expense to adopt standards because it would make networks more valuable, said Neil McRae, chief architect for BT Group, formerly called British Telecom. As the network “becomes more valuable, it becomes more viable,” McRae said. “Customers depend upon it more and they use it more. I think that’s all within our grasp if we collaborate. When you look at 5G solutions, they are all about collaboration with different partners.”

Adoption of standards also could alleviate some of the problems satellite equipment manufacturers are experiencing related to the global microchip shortage because it would be easier to swap out equipment from various suppliers.

“If I have a network with a proprietary technology from Vendor A, I cannot count on Vendor B,” Sanchis said. “The more flexible your ecosystem is, the more solutions you can try to find.”

Globalstar has “in excess of 20,000 devices on backorder that can’t be built right now because of the shortage,” Kagan said.

Rather than a temporary problem, McRae expects supply chain woes to become the new normal. “How you manage your supply chain for the next five to 10 years is going to be crucial,” he said.

Ground equipment manufacturers, meanwhile, are developing technology that is as flexible as possible to communicate with existing and new satellite constellations.

Comtech Telecommunication Corp. unveiled its latest modem March 22, high-speed CDM-780 Gateway modem, designed to support emerging constellations by communicating with satellites in geostationary, medium and low Earth orbit.

“This is a multi-gigabit modem,” Dubin told SpaceNews. “It is by far the fastest modem that our industry has now. We can do almost 7.5 gigabit per second in one box, 2.5 gigabit per link and we have three links.”

At the conference, Isotropic System unveiled its Axiom-X modem for mobile applications. The modem is designed to support high-speed communications across geostationary and nongeostationary orbit constellations.