Satellite 2014: What’s Next in HTS

One of the most widely anticipated sessions at Satellite 2014 was “What’s Next in HTS.” NSR president Christopher Baugh moderated a panel of industry leaders who shared their insights on how HTS will propel satellite communications forward and how best to manage this critical inflection point.

Defining HTS 

The session opened with an attempt to define HTS. The answer isn’t an easy one, though. As several panelists suggested, you can argue when the first High Throughput Satellite launched or whether to define HTS by throughput, architecture, beam size, payload or all of the above. But the panelists all agreed on this: HTS represents an increasingly rapid improvement in capacity, throughput and pricing.

Mike Cook, senior vice president with Hughes, outlined the exponential leap in throughput on a Hughes satellite, surging from 10 Gbps in 2008 to more than 150 Gbps today. iDirect CTO Dave Bettinger shared NSR’s projection that HTS capacity will soon exceed 2.6 Tbps.

John Zlogar, vice president of commercial networks at ViaSat, highlighted the massive increase in HTS launches and the significant improvement in the cost of capacity per bit. And Ashok Rao, O3B Networks vice president of product development, shared his company’s bullish growth plans, which included an elliptical orbit fleet, higher throughput rates and new target markets.

Maximizing HTS Opportunity 

Certainly, the numbers are strong, Baugh suggested, before setting up the day’s key question: How can the industry best monetize all this new capacity? Are all the business cases in place, or could this be another version of the satellite industry placing a risky 20-year bet on an uncertain future?

The panelists responded with grounded optimism. Cook pointed to the incredible surge in global bandwidth demand. The average household now has 5.7 connected devices, driving major growth in data traffic. Cook also mentioned the advent of the Internet of Things, where more than 26 billion machines, cars, appliances and other things will eventually be connected.

Bruno Fromont, vice president of corporate strategy at Intelsat, cited Silicon Valley tech giants looking to invest in satellite technology to combat likely core network congestion, driven by the realization that fiber and cellular networks can’t meet every application. Rao highlighted that new macro-economic forces are in play today. The Internet is spreading fast in developing nations, with billions of new customers on the horizon.

Bandwidth Management 

With overall demand looking strong, several panelists raise the importance of being able to flexibly manage the influx of new HTS capacity. Sami BenAmor, senior director of R&D and production management at Thales Alenia Space, cited the importance of dynamic capacity management – being able to move HTS capacity to where it’s need, responding to changing demand.

Bettinger laid out a four key developments for the future design of HTS networks to address this issue. Bettinger stated that current design is characterized by fixed spot beams, partially processed payloads and semi-automated capacity planning with satellite networks being an IP network extension. Future design must feature flexible spot beams, fully processed payloads and dynamic bandwidth on demand, with the ability to fully integrate mobility into the core network. All this will lower the risk of the industry’s necessary long-term bets.

Measuring Success 

Bettinger further added that the next phase of HTS will shift from speculation to adoption. Bettinger asserted: “We’ll soon be able to measure HTS success and make the right adjustments where needed. HTS may not go as planned for all geographies and applications. While the shift to spot beams delivers advantages in throughput and efficiency, we need to retain the flexibility that operators enjoy in a broad beam environment.”

As the session concluded, all panelists agreed that HTS is a transformative opportunity for the satellite industry. It gives satellite the chance to growth in lock step with the overall telecom market as long as the satellite industry’s innovators can keep pace.

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