Blend It Like Beckham

Dave DavisBy Dave Davis, Sr. Systems Engineer, iDirect Europe

The recent IET MilSatcom conference was an excellent event, attended by most of the industry’s key players. It was an outstanding opportunity to hear the perspectives of the UK MOD and several of the industry’s satellite providers, integrators, and partners, chaired by the charismatic Gerard Donelan. What is really good about the IET MilSatcom event is that there are very few sales pitches and plenty of insight, opinion and prediction, with the odd contentious point thrown in to make for good discussions in the breaks. And during those breaks, we had some great networking opportunities. All finished off with a final putting the world to rights session in the nearest local watering hole.

As usual at such conferences it didn’t take long for some common threads to become clear. These were increased data rates, a need for flexibility and the fact that one solution cannot fit all requirements.

It was generally accepted that data requirements are growing at an ever increasing rate. There has been an explosion of applications and devices which are either producing a massive throughput increase, such as ISTAR or a large amount of devices generating burst data, such as sensors…then add Autonomous vehicles, aircraft and maritime platforms…and mobile command platforms…and cell backhaul…and BYOD…and Big Data….

These data requirements are also very hard to predict going forward. It was generally accepted that increases in demand range from 10 to 30 percent annually. The soon to be released 12th edition of the NSR Global Satellite Capacity Supply and Demand report will make for interesting reading.

Now, no-one can accurately predict where the next theatre of operations will be, let alone what’s going to be the focus in five, 10 and 15 years’ time.  Given that satellite capacity needs to be planned 20+ years in advance, flexibility and adaptability is key to any solution. Some analysis can provide a pretty good idea of areas of interest and some key places will always be on a watch list for potential conflict, but there will always be some unpredicted scenarios come out of the blue. Who would have thought five years ago that we would be facing the current range of deployments? So there’s also a need for a range of flexible terminals that can work on air, sea, land and the litoral environment.

iDirect works on the core basis of the following for its defence suite:

  • a board level product for development into manpack and deployable terminals
  • a rack mounted product for fixed systems, maritime and land mobile
  • an aero solution, either board level, rack mounted, or ARINC 600 form factor

I believe this offers the most flexible approach. You also need one solution that will span across all satellites in all frequency bands, commercial and military.

It was generally accepted that there is an absolute need for a hardened sovereign X-Band asset in any Military offering, but also that this is simply too expensive to be able to meet all of the demands. So commercial providers will be key to augment the X-Band provision. But even then, different providers bring different things to the table, so there is an inevitability that future MilSatcom will be a blended portfolio, all combining to provide the necessary data throughputs and flexibility. The perfect blend may involve all of the Bands; L, C, X, Ku and Ka. It may also be a mixture of FSS, MSS and HTS. It will also inevitably involve a range of business models, like, vertically integrated, managed services, VNO and Co-Lo.

What is clear is that underpinning the blend a common management system is required and that’s another strength of iDirect’s NMS, providing Global, distributed and redundant NMS capabilities.

I like a good malt whisky, but it’s undeniable that a good blend has a deeper, richer, smoother taste. But if not blended in the right way it can be awful. So this blend must be approached with care and respect to each element. Just like MilSatcom.

You can view my presentation from MilSatcom here.

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