Balancing the CAPEX and OPEX in the VSAT market

Guest post by Alvaro Sanchez, Sales & Marketing Director, IntegrasysOriginally shared in Satellite Evolution November/December 2016

The introduction of high-throughput satellite (HTS) has been a real game changer in the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) market. As well as the obvious technological improvements, increased bandwidth and spot beam technology has brought about a significant drop in capital expenditure (CAPEX) for VSAT operators, and this continues to fall. High-throughput satellite has also enabled VSATs to get both smaller and cheaper to produce, leading to expense reductions in shipping costs.

There has been an exponential growth of VSATs of late. Especially in remote areas which were previously too expensive to connect. The obvious users are on the move, but VSATs also provide much much-needed communication to areas including oil & gas, environmental monitoring, e-learning, disaster recovery, and cellular backhaul.

Why are the operational costs in the VSAT market so high?  

As the cost per unit has come down, the operations expenses (OPEX) have remained constant. VSAT remotes will soon have a 50/50 split in terms of CAPEX vs OPEX expenditure. It is likely that CAPEX will continue to fall with the economies of scale, but the savings are still not being made my most when it comes to operating costs. Before long it will likely cost more to deploy and maintain a VSAT than to buy one.

Increased demand for VSATs is partly to blame for this. Rapid expansion in mobility applications means that operators are having to install more and more remotes to cope with the extra demand, with networks being stretched to accommodate the added demand for bandwidth.

Poor installation is also to blame for increased OPEX. VSATs are often installed by under-skilled operators, with installation rushed due to time pressures. A haphazard approach to installation can lead to errors, further increasing maintenance costs.

With so many VSATs positioned in remote areas without regular maintenance, extreme weather conditions can severely impact the unit, often bringing down the entire network. Sadly, many operators aren’t alerted to the problem until after it has occurred, and are required to send a team to multiple sites to correct the problem, also leading to additional costs.

At the very least, the most diligent VSAT operators are required to deploy experts to travel to each terminal regularly to ensure the VSAT is working efficiently, which pushes costs up further.

How can OPEX be reduced?

Clearly, as an industry we need to be smarter at bringing the OPEX down. Installation should be as effective as possible, and continuous monitoring of the VSAT should take place to ensure it is performing as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

As VSAT networks continue to grow, we need to make the jobs of installers and maintainers more easy to manage.  The IoT and connected vehicles are likely to make this process easier with small, relatively low cost portable devices helping to ensure installation is carried out correctly. There have been recent examples of increased connectivity helping to combat the problems caused by poor installation. Our Satmotion Pocket tool has become widely used by the VSAT industry to ensure fast, accurate, and efficient installation of VSATs, and goes a long way to eradicating errors in the initial setup stage.

To drastically reduce OPEX however, we need constant monitoring from the Network Operation Centers (NOCs). If the health of all VSATs on the network, regardless of location, is being continually monitored in one central location, the operator can be alerted to any anomalies and take the necessary steps to resolve.

This requirement led INTEGRASYS to the development of the Alusat tool, which automatically monitors all VSATs on the network and proactively checks the uplink and downlink health of the units. Operators can determine different thresholds for RX and TX and the system can act automatically depending on the circumstances. In addition, measured values of copolar power, cross polar isolation, adjacent satellite interference and 1dB compression point for networks with adaptive power adjustment capability can be critically important. All being handled at the NOC is hugely cost-efficient for the service providers.

The smarter we get with monitoring and maintaining VSAT networks, the more we can reduce the running costs. As an industry we should be aiming for OPEX to be considerably lower than the CAPEX, with capital savings being matched by operational savings thanks to smarter tools.

Alvaro Sanchez and his team from INTEGRASYS were a sponsor of VSAT Global 2016. For exhibition and sponsorship opportunities in 2017, contact 


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Satellite experts discuss the main industry challenges

At VSAT Global 2016 in London, we spoke with a number of VSAT professionals to hear about the main challenges facing the satellite industry.



Visit the website to see the full 2016 line-up, and pre-register for next year’s event.

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How is recruitment in the satellite industry changing?

With technology advancing at speed and acquisitions aplenty, it’s a challenging time for those in the satellite industry. How has this change impacted recruitment in the sector? We caught up with Ian Stammers, Founder and Managing Director of Satellite Talent Ltd to find out.

  1. What are the key challenges currently facing the satellite industry in terms of recruiting talent?

Companies are currently facing three key challenges:

  • Competition: Over the past 12 months the industry has become candidate driven, which will continue in 2017. With more players moving into the market, salaries will be driven up as companies fight for the best talent and work to retain their best.
  • Lack of talent: There are not enough graduates coming through. Why is this? From what I have seen over the last 10 years, I’d say that larger OEM’s within spacecraft manufacturing haven’t been able to keep up, in terms of offering attractive salaries which are in-line with the operators.
  • Churn: This is due largely to a lack of talent alongside a skills shortage.
  1. How has recruitment in the satellite industry changed over recent years?

I started recruiting into the industry back in 2006. I placed some of Yahsat’s ‘C’ Level team and around 30 others throughout their business. Their recruitment procedure was tough, but they had the backing of Abu Dhabi’s Investment Arm so had the budget to attract the best – which of course they did.

Since then, many new players have come into the market, both operators and Earth Observation companies. There have also been acquisitions; Hughes bought out by EchoStar, O3b acquired by SES, EMC acquired by GEE, Harris CapRock acquired by SpeedCast, and so on. Due to competition, bandwidth prices have been driven down which has had a knock-on effect for recruitment.

Globally, salaries have stood still over the last 2-3 years. Despite this, companies are demanding more. It’s common for job descriptions to compress two or three positions into one. On top of this, ever changing technologies provide challenges to recruitment and within IT / Networking companies are increasing the knowledge and experience criteria within job descriptions, you often have to be a SME in multiple areas to be successful.

  1. What are the key skills you look for when recruiting a graduate or young person into a role in the industry?

Most of the positions we recruit are mid to senior management. The graduates we have placed previously i.e. spacecraft controllers, would usually have an MSc in Mobile and Satellite Communications / BEng Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering or similar, and would have attended a reputable university like Surrey University in the UK, or Delft University in Netherlands. Unfortunately, without the degree it’s extremely hard to get into the satellite industry on both the manufacturing and engineering side.

At present, there aren’t enough graduates coming through in order to keep up with the pace of the industry. It’s an industry worth over $200 billion and with a 3% growth rate YoY, we need to do more to get young people through. Not all companies have the time, capacity or budget to do this, they need experts who have the experience which is why you see an average age of 45-55 within the sector.

  1. Advances in tech are changing the scope of the satellite industry massively, to what extent has this changed the roles that you typically recruit for?

The release of new technologies means that we are always recruiting for new positions, covering areas including HTS in Engineering, SDN/NFV within Network Architecture and more. There are limited numbers of people experienced in new technologies, so it’s important to partner with the right recruitment firm that has the network to source these niche candidates.

Another recent change has come from service providers who are fighting it out within IFC (In-Flight Connectivity), a huge global market. Over the coming years we will see In-Flight Connectivity on long-haul and short-haul flights alike. IFC is a hugely competitive sector and again a candidate driven market. Car connectivity is on the horizon too, resulting in even more companies fighting it out to attract the best talent.

  1. Tech start-ups and tech giants like Facebook are beginning to move into the satellite space, has this widened the variety of roles on offer in the sector?

The aim of the industry is to provide reliable, fast, cost effective connectivity to consumers, businesses or governments within a geographical area. Regardless of the technologies being used, the core areas of the business will stay the same.

The expected launch of hundreds of LEO satellites over the next two years may introduce a problem though, in that launch companies may not be able to keep up with the demand. Perhaps there’ll be a gap in the market here, especially in the UK who are wanting to establish a UK Spaceport by 2018. This will allow smaller satellites to be launched from the UK, which will boost UK competiveness and reduce reliance on other spaceports out of our control.

The satellite industry is a tough, challenging and demanding industry to be involved with, but it’s also highly rewarding if you get your business model right.

Couldn’t make it to VSAT Global in September? Download the latest insights to find out how emerging technologies could make for bright satellite futures.


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VSAT Insights Download: Using emerging technology to drive bright satellite futures

As the satellite industry struggles to achieve the same level of growth as the rest of the telco market, providers are being forced to rethink their business models to catch up.

Advancing technology is at the root of disruption, but it also holds the key to an exciting reinvention of satellite. How can providers leverage emerging technologies to ensure future growth?

Download your free copy of the VSAT Series Insights to uncover:

  • Industry leaders’ views on how tech is shaping satellite
  • How providers including Intelsat, LeoSat and BT Global are adopting new market models to sustain revenues
  • LEO and HTS – what additional services will they offer?

The piece is based on discussions held at VSAT Global 2016, which brought together leading service providers, technology companies and end users to discuss the evolution of the satellite industry.


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Connecting the unconnected with satellite

A consensus has been reached among key players in the satellite industry; future growth is dependent on operating and terminal equipment costs coming down and performance going up. With 4 billion people still underserved across the globe, the satellite industry needs to resolve how it can best position itself to provide this connectivity, beating the competition from alternative technologies and emerging tech giants moving into the space.

“Without internet access, you can’t have proper healthcare or education let alone a thriving business community. The statistics are overwhelming. With good broadband speed economies do much better,” says David McCourt, CEO of Granahan McCourt Capital.

But the economics need to work in order for the VSAT market to be sustainable and at the same time profitable. At a recent VSAT Global panel discussion ‘Connecting the Unconnected: The role of satellite connectivity in remote areas’, speakers maintained that an integrated model that served customer, enterprise and telco segments would need to be found in order to propel the industry towards a brighter future.

“The way to crack consumer connectivity will be to work together with a single objective in mind. It’s about finding harmony across the satellite industry to make connection happen” stated Amit Somani, Chief Strategy Officer at Yahsat.

VSAT providers trying to get ahead of the game currently have all eyes on Africa where internet penetration is far behind the global average, recorded at just 20% in 2015. But with mobile penetration on the continent already at 67%, how far can VSAT go to providing the remaining population with connectivity?

“Those able to take advantage of this [mobile penetration] through WIFI will connect Africa. This could be VSAT in conjunction with a mobile operator perhaps’, suggested Job Ndege of Protocol Solutions Limited. Ndege maintained that with the average African living on under $1 per day, a solution that cost between $3 – $7 a month would need to be found in order for consumers to be willing to pay.

Even if providers were able to find a solution that benefited all stakeholders, high installation and maintenance costs of VSAT presents another challenge to achieving global connectivity. It’s all about coming up with models that convince governments that VSAT is a sustainable solution, explains Job Ndege.

“Most government policy makers see satellite as expensive… As operators, we need to come up with models to convince them that VSAT is sustainable, or for the period of time required that their money is spent well. There’s a disconnect between policy makers and governments.”

Public-private partnerships may be the way forward here, as was suggested by McCourt in the panel discussion. Examples of this happening in practice? Enet’s work in conjunction with the Irish National Broadband Plan – providing high-speed broadband across this relatively underserved country over the next five years.

It’s clear there’s a case for VSAT being able to connect the unconnected, evident by the fact leading provider Hughes has over one million subscribers on their broadband platform. How can success be rolled out across the industry? It was conceded by speakers at VSAT Global that a change in business plan, an open approach to collaboration and a focus on lowering maintenance costs would be necessary to enable satellite to take the unconnected into the connected world.

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How Granahan McCourt Capital is working to drive global connectivity

Four billion people across the globe – both within and outside of the developing world – remain underserved or wholly unconnected. Investment firm Granahan McCourt Capital is working to drive global connectivity through government partnerships. We met with Chairman and CEO, David C. McCourt, also Chairman at Skyware Technologies, to hear more.

  1. How do you see the role of the satellite industry changing as companies such as Facebook disrupt?

Governments and the private sector need to come together to find the best solutions for providing connectivity. Facebook is providing its own solutions, using a mixture of technology that is largely made up of satellites and drones. Their motivations are right, and their approach is interesting, but it’s not going to fix the entire breadth of connectivity problems across the developing world. To do this, we need more projects where public sector states, who have the interest of their citizens at heart, and private sector telecom experts join forces.

As broadband becomes increasingly expensive in less dense areas, emerging public-private partnerships will likely use a similar mixture of technology, and make connectivity viable in underserved areas. As more governments pursue these models to ensure their citizens have access to all of the opportunities that connectivity grants, we’ll begin to see true progress being made at a rapid rate. This is the kind of model Granahan McCourt Capital is pursuing.

  1. What are the aims of GMC over the next 5 years?

Granahan McCourt Capital has spent 2016 developing and implementing a range of innovative and exciting projects. Our subsidiary enet is shortlisted for Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, a €1.5 billion tender to provide ultra-fast internet access across rural Ireland. We’ve also secured a milestone public-private partnership through Skyware Technologies with King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST), the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia.

The next five years will be equally exciting as we continue to provide broadband and other forms of connectivity to underserved people around the globe. We’ll pursue new opportunities to form public-private partnerships with governments all over the world. In media, we’re increasingly focussing on content. The launch of, our video streaming service and social media platform, was a substantial milestone of 2016. Moving forward it will provide creatives across the Middle East, North Africa – and soon Sub-Saharan Africa and South America – with the resources and training needed to create professional-quality content relevant to their audiences.

Granahan McCourt Capital is at the forefront of cutting edge technology as we pursue focused investments in big data and mobile crowdsourcing, finding new ways to use technology to disrupt markets around the world.

  1. How do you see the role of the operator change when working with rural communities?

Regardless of location, the role of the operator is to provide the best service possible.

The formula we’re seeing in Ireland is a model we’re looking to replicate all over the world by different states with common objectives. Ireland is still relatively underserved, and the National Broadband Plan aims to extend high-speed broadband across Ireland over the next five years. enet worked in conjunction with the plan, launching a 1Gb/s fibre broadband network. We have created an operating model with a genuinely open-access network that any service provider can utilise, making it easier and cheaper for previously underserved people to gain access to world-class connectivity.

  1. Collaboration is a key topic in VSAT at the moment, how do you see this happening in practice?

Providers are often hesitant to work in the developing world and in rural areas due to economic reasons, leading to a growing number of public-private partnerships as governments seek to provide their citizens with connectivity.

These partnerships often incorporate a mixture of technologies; as broadband networks are costly to establish. From an investment perspective, many private companies enter them for the wrong reason. Governments take policy seriously and should work with trusted providers like Granahan McCourt Capital who have demonstrated their commitment to long-term solutions through previous partnerships.

Partnerships are the future for major telecom projects, particularly in areas where connectivity is very poor or non-existent. Partnerships with governments are needed to attract the right commercial partners to provide the best solutions to these types of problems.

  1. You recently chaired a panel discussion at VSAT Global on the role of satellite connectivity in remote areas. What was the main message you brought to the discussion?

There have been two major advances in the evolution of satellite. Firstly, the improvement of terminal economics has allowed costs to come down. Secondly, an increased number of high throughput satellites have allowed for more sophisticated product offerings at increased speeds.

These two things have removed the barriers on cost and speed, and are making satellite a viable option for a significant proportion of the 4bn underserved.

David C. McCourt is Chairman and CEO of TMT investment firm, Granahan McCourt Capital. He is also founder of advanced integrated terminal solutions and satellite RF electronics firm, Skyware Technologies, and new online digital TV platform View his speaker profile on VSAT Global.

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The transition towards a brave new data-centric world, and the emergence of 5G prospects for satellite

Views around the ramifications of a move for satellite operators and VSAT providers toward a ‘data-centric’ operating model informed morning debates on day two of the main conference at VSAT Global.

In his opening remarks, chair Christopher Baugh, President at Northern Sky Research, described the satellite sector as going through “an upside down time”, starting with a glut of capacity that’s placing satellite operators under pressure to look further toward diversified revenue streams. This ‘new normal’ is also having a knock-on effect on VSAT service providers anxious to stabilise their own revenue expectations by reviewing operating models and embracing exigent strategies focused on partnerships, consortia, and other forms of consolidation – including M&A.

Baugh observed how the satellite sector is “now data-centric and starting to look like a telco market”, with the sustainability of some pricing models now within sight of being tested down to $500-per-Mb.

Following on from earlier discussions around the future evolution of flat-panel antennas, Baugh reiterated the perception that value-added prospects for the satellite business in general are being coupled to the speed with which this technology can be brought to market.

Ronald van der Breggen of LeoSat focused on the implications of the move to a data-centric market: when fully deployed, LeoSat’s solution, he told delegates, is “not a satellite technology, not a gap-filler for when waiting for fibre installation… it is a networking technology”. Indeed, it will be in some cases superior to both fibre and other satellite technologies and terrestrial fibre, Breggen said.

In response to challenging delegate questions on LeoSat pricing models, Breggen confirmed that the company’s core service (scheduled for launch 2018-2020) would not necessarily be competing against GEO and other satellite offerings, but rather positioned as a ‘premium product’ – a differentiator that he predicted (without irony) will lift it above higher-altitude rivals: LeoSat customers will be prepared to pay a premium for services that offer better latency, and whose ‘touchless architecture’ means is able to offer additional security assurances.

How satellite technology will ‘be used’ in 5G environments was also a key theme. In some opening devil’s advocacy, a delegate questioned whether speculative debates on satellite and 5G interplays were really a discussion priority, for the time being, the global satellite industry faced other issues of higher criticality.

However, panellists’ responses confirmed that there are some topics that it is timely to place under consideration. Jesus Hector Jimenez, VP–Global Engineering at RigNet, said that 5G is undoubtedly forcing satellite operators at least to think differently about their future role in the wider communications ecosystem. Satellite could play a very big role in 5G deployment in some parts of the world, he added, because in the absence of fibre, it will drive opportunities for satellite operators to become primary endpoint device service enablers in the move toward 6G and 7G standards.

Jimenez also pointed out that from an OPEX perspective, maintaining satellite-based 5G network infrastructures may well prove to be less costly that having to dispatch engineers to repair broken fibre installations in remote regions of developing global markets.

In his comments John Landovskis, VP, PLM & Business Development VSAT & Modem Products at Advantech Wireless, called attention to the fact that latency should not be the only issue of concern in regard to running enterprise-class applications across all-5G networks. Jimenez envisaged a future scenario where end-user organisations entering emerging overseas markets where 5G becomes the only available communications infrastructure, might find that core applications – SAP or Citrix, say – might have to be reconfigured to operate wholly over satellite-enabled nets.

Panellist Renato Goodfellow, Head of Global Satellite, BT Global Services, called upon leading players in the satellite industry to initiate conversations with major enterprise applications software vendors with a view to identifying any issues that deploying their software extensively and exclusively over satellite-based 5G networks might throw up.

The closing panel discussion focused on how mobility applications are increasingly becoming a growth sector that’s providing opportunities for VSAT players to fill revenue gaps left by downturned markets such as energy (oil and gas). Panellists including Harris CapRock Communications President Tracey Haslam, and Intellian Technologies VP Global Satcom Jon Harrison, agreed that many of the best prospects here lie in maritime, as shipping fleets the world over turn increasingly to satellite to support a panoply of applications for both manned and unmanned vessels, including tackling the growing threats of maritime cyber-security.

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HTS defining factor in driving VSAT sector’s competitive reorganization

Successive debates that enlivened day one of the main conference at VSAT Global (London) focused on how HTS (high-throughput satellite) technology is precipitating change on several fronts for both satellite operators and VSAT service providers.

Among the broad range of topics addressed at the industry-leading event, speakers explained how HTS’s promise to dramatically boost satellite bandwidth delivery now has to be understood within the context of the wider repercussions its deployment will cause.

The capacity boosts will, of course, enable satellite operators and their VSAT partners to better meet the increasing demand for bandwidth being driven by both the consumer and enterprise sectors – most specifically by the rise in mobile data consumption.

HTS is opening up a mix of opportunities, making VSAT providers well-placed to work with mobile network operators (MNOs), for instance, to provide mobile backhaul capacity, or to partner with them to extend broadband coverage into territorial regions where installation of fixed fibre network links cannot be cost-justified.

However, the satellite industry also needs to be mindful of the dilemma that MNOs increasingly now face: mobile data demand is driving the need for additional network infrastructure investment from operators who are not themselves deriving much revenue benefit from the content surge.

This situation may develop further as VSAT operators investigate opportunities to transition their business models away from being pure-play service providers toward a spot-beam enabled model that includes bundling value-added services in addition to core communications provisioning.

Consumer applications will probably not provide the key ROI assurances here; but globally, if significant demand for non-consumer services exists in landlocked regions where conventional fibre broadband installation is impracticable, opportunities certainly exist for value-added VSAT providers to extend their business models, most speakers agreed.

However, as was noted by Simon Gray, VP of Humanitarian Affairs at Eutelsat, re-positioning as an international value-added VSAT services provider calls for some fundamental realignment of business models, especially when it comes to understanding the complexities and nuances of operating across multiple national cultures.

For VSAT players keen on such self-reinvention, however, concomitant market developments must first come forth to aid their mission. The unit cost of end-user terminal price points, for instance, must fall to a level that is not only affordable by Western standards, but also for early adopters in developing countries. As some speakers claimed that terminals are already being retailed on minimal margins, this presents a formidable challenge for the industry, unless some kind of subsidised environment can be introduced.

These and other changes are highlighting the changing nature of the competitive landscape for satellite operators and VSAT service providers. Consensus of opinion expressed at VSAT Global was that satellite operators with ambitions to establish more direct corporate customer-facing operations – and thereby effectively compete with their VSAT partners for enterprise end-user business – risk underestimating the demands of such a course, and will find the new demands of customer relationship management taxing.

Satellite operators will also lack the speed to market and agility needed service the needs of emerging demand in markets where VSAT is the only feasible wireless communications solution. This is the case for established VSAT-savvy verticals, such as maritime – speakers such as Harris Caprock CTO Rolf Berge, SES VP sales Data & Mobility Europe Simon Gatty Saunt, and Intelsat VP Americas Mark Rasmussen, each explained how burgeoning digitalisation of cruise ships and container shipping are turning a range of vessels into significant centres of VSAT demand – and to other transport sectors such as passenger aeronautical (inflight broadband access) and connected autonomous cars.

Day one of the main conference concluded with an interactive panel discussion based on delegate poll on ‘which tech innovation will have the biggest impact on the VSAT Industry’. Antenna Innovations followed by LEO topped the poll.

Antenna improvements have the potential to open up new market opportunities, predicted Sandeep Kumar, Head of Satellite Sales, Sales Specialist, at Telstra.

Liquid Telecom’s Group Managing Executive – Satellite & VSAT Scott Mumford, agreed: the availability of antennas with gigabit connectivity and low latency would be a game-changer to opening-up the consumer and enterprise markets for satellite broadband, but even then price-point-per-terminal could still prove a challenge to uptake; but every incremental improvement in this direction is a step toward some seismic VSAT market shifts which will redefine the industry in the years leading up to 2020.

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SES Launches Global Maritime+ Solution to Deliver High-Speed Connectivity to Vessels Traversing Oceans

Maritime customers to enjoy seamless global roaming through new fully-customisable and scalable managed service.

SES S.A. (Euronext Paris:SESG) (LuxX:SESG) today announced the launch of its global SES Maritime+ service that will deliver high-speed connectivity to vessels traversing oceans.

SES Maritime+ will enable maritime customers to have easy access to customisable bandwidth and coverage packages, ensuring satellite capacity is effectively utilised. Vessels traversing the oceans will be offered seamless roaming, leveraging SES’s global fleet of over 50 satellites, extensive ground infrastructure of over 20 teleports and more than 6,000 points of presence.

The managed connectivity service combines SES’s global network infrastructure and hybrid satellite capacity with the latest technology from VT iDirect, enabling SES customers to deliver a complete platform solution to maritime users on a worldwide basis. Commercial benefits include customised service level agreements and scalable throughput options, with standardised pricing regardless of region or season of operation.

The global SES Maritime+ product is part of SES’s enhanced data network, SES Plus, which is offering customised products and solutions to tackle the evolving needs of the mobility and enterprise markets. In March of this year, a regional Ka-band maritime+ offering was unveiled specifically to target Europe.

“SES Maritime+ gives our global customers the nimbleness and agility to customise their capacity demands whenever needed, and the peace of mind to focus on delivering the best customer service experience to the vessel owners,” said Elias Zaccack, Head of Mobility Market Solutions Centre, at SES. “We will continue to further improve and develop the throughput capabilities of SES Maritime+ to ensure that vessels can travel around the world with seamless roaming.”

“At VT iDirect, we support the strategic growth of key maritime providers like SES, innovating on our highly scalable platform so that our partners bring new services to market and differentiate their business,” said Kevin Steen, Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Chief Operating Officer at VT iDirect. “Demand for VSAT connectivity continues to grow and is generating significant value across the maritime sector through a range of business, crew and passenger applications. Today, a new wave of service innovations like SES Maritime+ is making VSAT networks more powerful, affordable and easier to use, which drives even greater return on investment for maritime operators.”

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The Role of VSAT in Disaster Recovery

Guest post by Alvaro Sanchez, Sales & Marketing Director, IntegrasysOriginally shared to the Satellite Evolution Asia June 2016. 

Satellite communications, and in particular VSAT systems, have an important role to play in disaster recovery and emergency response. Naturally, the very nature of a disaster means that it is impossible to know when and where it will occur and very often it is in a location with little or no connection infrastructure. Even if there was previously a connection of course, the disaster can very often disable that. Being able to enter a disaster zone with all the equipment to quickly get connected can seriously impact the number of lives that can be saved and VSAT technology is the key to enabling that.

Vital Connections

Connections in a disaster situation really can be a matter of life and death. So much so that a great deal is being invested into new technology to get disaster response teams and the general public connected, and fast.

When a disaster strikes, there will often be multiple agencies involved in the relief effort. This means there is an urgent need for coordination between these different agencies, in order to ensure that those there to help know exactly where that help is needed and that the resources are being used in the best way possible. The only way to do this effectively is by having a good communication infrastructure in place. Teams on site also need to communicate with their colleagues outside of the disaster zone to communicate what additional support is required, whether that be in the form of additional teams or the delivery of provisions, for example.

With mobile networks often going down in an emergency, giving the public a connection can often also be a factor, ensuring they can get help to them and each other as and when needed, as well as communicating with friends and families elsewhere to reassure them. It can also be about the disaster response teams being able to communicate with the affected public to ensure they remain informed and also know of any particularly dangerous areas to avoid, for example.

News coverage from disaster scenes is a crucial element. After all, it is widespread news coverage that promotes emotion and often a response in the general public right across the world. In-depth global coverage from disaster scenes is often met with crowdfunding on a massive scale, enabling those charities and organisations working in the field to help people affected by the disaster much more extensively and quickly. And let’s face it, that is what will ultimately save lives.

The VSAT Challenge

Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) are often the only way to communicate from within a disaster zone. The emergence of High Throughput Satellite (HTS) has made VSATs much more efficient and reliable. Small antennas and equipment are relatively easy to transport to even the remotest area, and connection is possible anywhere in the world. Technology has come on a great deal, meaning if the antenna is well aligned and the team trained to operate the equipment, getting a connection can be extremely quick.

However, whilst VSAT naturally brings a wealth of critical advantages for disaster recovery, it is not without its challenges. One of those is the very fact that other communications infrastructure will generally not be in place, either due to the nature of the location or because the disaster has caused a breakdown in any existing infrastructure. Disaster teams may have to travel long distances to reach the disaster zone, whilst carrying sensitive equipment, and when they arrive with no existing communications in place, they are on their own in terms of getting that equipment setup and ready to go.

This is further amplified by the fact that most disaster recovery teams are unlikely to be highly trained in satellite communications, which means that the margin for error is high. A slight misalignment of the antenna can cause a multitude of problems and lead to an unstable or no connection and a great deal of time spent trying to get that rectified – time which should be spent saving lives.

Getting Online

It is clear that getting connected fast can make a huge impact for disaster recovery efforts. There are two main ways that we, as an industry, can ensure that happens.

The first is through better, more automated commissioning tools to reduce the possibility for human error and subsequent issues, such as connectivity losses or satellite interference. At Integrasys we have developed smart tools to make it much easier for VSAT to fulfil the connectivity need in these critical environments by simplifying the installation and commissioning with Satmotion Pocket.

Today a remote could be commissioned in a minute with optimal performance and minimizing any interference. Integrasys actively works with the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (IRG) on developing new solutions that solve interference challenges. We believe strongly in giving operators the right tools to make antenna alignment in the field simple, quick, and error-free.

The other way is with automated maintenance tools, controlling networks in the region affected. By controlling our networks within this region after the disaster happened we can be sure which remotes should be revisited and which ones do not need revisiting. At Satellite 2016, Integrasys released a new solution, Alusat, that enables customers to perform an unmanned RF check on the overall network and ascertain which remotes have been de-pointed or degraded and which ones could be used for recovery purpose already installed on site. Alusat can even recover out of service remotes without the need of an installer on site.

Moreover we can also ensure a quicker and smoother connection is by training. If all the people responsible for operating satellite equipment in these situations were kept up-to-date with the latest training, they would be much better equipped to deal with any issues they may experience once in the field. We have worked with the Global VSAT Forum (GVF) to deliver training sessions along with other satellite companies to various satcom users. One example is an 8-day project with twenty-one militaries in the Asia-Pacific region or the interactive GVF 514 Satmotion training on-line. These trainees gained valuable knowledge and understanding of satellite operations and equipment and I’m certain it will have made them much more efficient in their day-to-day operations involving satellite communications.

Saving Lives

When it comes to disaster recovery, it will always be about saving lives. Satellite technology is helping those agencies working in disaster zones to do that faster and much more effectively than ever before thanks to smarter tools which automate the difficult processes in order to solve the challenges facing our industry.

Alvaro Sanchez is joining a panel at VSAT Global 2016 in London on September 13 – 16, to discuss antenna innovations that will enable new services. 

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