Posted inCommercial

Inexpensive flat-panel antennas will be a “game-changer”

Photo of executives from satellite connectivity service providers participating on a panel discussion Sept. 10 at World Satellite Business Week in Paris.
Executives from satellite connectivity service providers participate on a panel discussion Sept. 10 at World Satellite Business Week in Paris. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger

PARIS — Blaine Curcio, Euroconsult senior affiliate consultant, sounded skeptical when he asked panelists at the World Satellite Business Week conference whether flat-panel antennas were “actually the holy grail” in terms of significantly expanding the total addressable market.

Blaine Curcio, Euroconsult senior affiliate consultant, moderates a connectivity services panel discussion Sept. 10 at World Satellite Business Week in Paris. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger

The response from satellite communications service providers, however, was a resounding yes, assuming the price is right.

For consumer adoption of broadband from satellites in low or medium Earth orbits, inexpensive flat-panel antennas are “critical,” said Pradman Kaul, Hughes Network Systems president and CEO. “That is the biggest application today that we can’t address because we don’t have a low-cost, electronic-array-based flat-antennas.”

Flat-panel antennas also will be “a game changer” for expanding the role satellites play in connecting devices in the internet-of-things, said iDirect CEO Kevin Steen. “It changes the economics when you look at the installation.”

In the maritime market, the picture is more mixed.

Cruise ships will continue to rely on large antennas, said SpeedCast CEO Pierre-Jean Beylier. “They need hundred of megabits and highly efficient antennas. We are not going to get there with flat-panel antennas.”

The same is true for energy customers who rely on satellites links to connect offshore platforms. They will continue to install large antennas, Beylier said.

Nevertheless, flat-panel antennas will be extremely valuable for commercial ships and yachts.

Parabolic antennas are “complex to install, to configure and to maintain,” Beylier said. “The concept of having something flat you throw on the ship and it’s plug-and-play, with very little installation, configuration and maintenance because you don’t have mechanical parts is a game changer.”

Land mobility is another market that will benefit from inexpensive flat-panel antennas, Beylier said. “Here, it’s about having a small, low-cost, flat-panel antenna that we can install on various assets that move around to provide a decent amount of bandwidth at a decent cost.”

There are tens of thousands of vehicles and other assets operated by government agencies, energy companies and nongovernmental organizations that could take advantage of inexpensive flat-panel antennas, Beylier said. “That would give us more bandwidth than we can offer with L-band today,” he added. “That could be very interesting.”

In addition, the satellite communications market will benefit from satellites with more flexibility due to onboard processing, Steen said. “The advent of that capability will change dramatically how the landscape leverages the assets in the sky,” he added. “It will give us the ability to do power management and more effectively use that asset that used to be static.”

Beylier agreed, saying “software-defined satellites with beam-shaping capabilities that allow you to create small, high power-beams over certain regions or assets for a period of time, will change the way we can deliver connectivity to our customers.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...